A journal of my experiences with breast cancer to inform those who are interested and to help any one else who might have just been diagnosed.

“[She] will have no fear of bad news; [her] heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” Psalm 112:7

Sunday, December 16, 2012


The most beautiful thing to come out of this situation has been the outpouring of love and kindness. I really appreciate every kind word, every prayer said on my behalf, every mention or comment. There have been times when I have cried when I have gotten an email or a comment. One blog friend, when she heard that I was changing the course of our schooling so that Katie could take over when I was too unwell to teach, arranged for a free membership to schoolhouseteachers. Another blog friend sent me this email...

Oh, Dear Phyllis,
I have been sucked off in a vortex as of late and just read some of
your posts last night at All Things Beautiful when I came to the part
about you being diagnosed with breast cancer, I went to the site and

read all of your posts there. I tried to reply two times, but it

didn't go through either time. I'm not sure why it didn't work, but
maybe I am supposed to e-mail you instead of putting my comment up on
the blog.

So here goes...

I am so sorry that you are going through this. Learning with your
family has been such a blessing to me. I have followed your blog from
the time I started blogging several years ago. You have taught my
children so much! In fact, when I told my husband about your
diagnosis, he "knew" exactly who I was talking about.

Please know that I will pray for you every day and I'll find a verse
to hang on my refrigerator to pray just for you. And I'll pray for you

Dear Heavenly Father,

Hold Phyllis in the palm of your hand. Give her strength and courage
and peace. Guide the doctors' and give them wisdom to care for her.
Bless her.

Lift up her husband, and children, and dear friends that are there
with her. Show them your goodness and love through her healing. Grant
them freedom from worry and fear.

In Jesus' most holy and precious name,

Although we've never met face to face, please know that I hold you dear.


I will take all of these kind thoughts, words and prayers with me in my mind and heart for when I am feeling low during the treatments. 

If you are a blogger, you
 know how it is when you just post and you don't 
even know half the time whether anyone is reading or not. LOL To know that 
my life has touched some of yours in this way is just an amazing thing that has made 
all the blogging worth it.
Never fear...I believe that God has more plans for me here on earth before he calls me to his heavenly home. I may miss some weeks of blogging here and there, but I will keep on blogging when I can and when this is all over, I will be changed by the strength he gives me and the knowledge of all the love that has been shown me. 
Thank you.

"Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins 
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion, 
who satisfies your desires with good things…"
~Psalm 103:2-5

Friday, December 14, 2012

Decision Made with Surgeon

My fortune from a Japanese restaurant fortune cookie.
After much prayerful thought, we have decided to do the lumpectomy. It will probably be scheduled for Thursday, January 3. It is an outpatient procedure. They will inject the area near the lump with radioactive material (just like the lymph node removal) and then insert a wire into the area, using a sonogram to determine the exact location of the tumor. With these two methods, the surgeon will locate the mass and take it and a bit of the tissue around it and remove it. This will be sent to the lab to determine if there are any cancerous cells around the margin of the tissue she removed. If there are any, she will have to go back in to remove more tissue in the area the cells were found. If no cells around the margins, we can move on to the next phase of treatment.
(On a happy note, I have lost nearly 30 pounds.)
I think we can now take a breath and enjoy the Christmas and New Year's season.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
-Phil. 4:6,7

Please keep us all in your prayers.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Oncology Radiologist

We met with the Oncology Radiologist today. We loved him very much. He had a wonderful bedside manner and he explained everything about my particular type of cancer and what the different things mean. He also stated that 40% of the women with Raynaud's disease when they get radiation therapy have a hardening of the tissue of the breast. He likened it to having a potato under the skin of the breast. It limits movement of the arm and is very uncomfortable to sleep with. He said that he would allow me to get radiation therapy, but that he felt that I would be more satisfied with the results of breast reconstruction after a mastectomy than the results of the hardened tissue. 
If I do get the mastectomy, however, and  later there are cancerous cells found in the muscle wall or other places, they will probably suggest oncology radiology again, and if I have already gotten the reconstruction, there is the same possibility of hardening of the tissues around the implant, which will make the  implant distort. The advise is to wait until the patient is cancer-free for a number of years (at least two) before the reconstruction is even started. By this time, a lot of women decide not to go through with the reconstruction because they have gotten used to what they have had for the past couple of years.
We have made an appointment with the surgeon on Friday to finalize whatever surgery we finally decide on. I will let you know which way we decide to go.
Meanwhile keep us in your prayers for wisdom to make the right decision.

“…for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deut. 31:6

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Plastic Surgeon

We met with the Plastic Surgeon today, and I am beginning to get used to the confused state that these doctor's appointments seem to produce. He described the different procedures, which include:

  1. removing tissue from either the stomach area or the back, which is then brought around to the breast area. (He really didn't seem to want to do this. I am not sure whether it was because of his own personal preference, or whether it was because obesity, as this is listed in the pamphlet they give you as one of the reasons why not to do this. He didn't say.)
  2. a pouch that is inserted under the muscle wall and skin (either just the skin you have left or with the additional skin added) that is slowly inflated over time to stretch the skin to somewhat equal the other side.
  3. after the pouch has created the area, this is removed and the breast implant is inserted in the area.
  4. a nipple is made from your skin and added.
With all of this, we are reminded that the new breast will not terribly resemble the previous breast, just  make it less traumatic than nothing there. 

Since radiation therapy tends to create hardened tissue around the pouch/implant, he likes to wait until radiation therapy is over before even starting this process. Also, studies show that there is an increase in infection if the process is started at the time of the mastectomy, so they tend to like to wait until the patient has recovered from the mastectomy surgery before beginning the reconstruction phase. This is apparently a brand new way of thinking. Upon inquiring about the time frame for all of this, it looks as if it would be at least six to nine months before the reconstruction process even begins (depending on what types of treatment has to be done) and then many months of reconstruction...perhaps a year. All of this makes me want to lean toward the lumpectomy....however, it is possible that since I have Raynaud's disease that radiation therapy might not be an option for me. We may have to see the radiologist first to determine this. If radiation therapy is not an option, then we will have to go with the mastectomy. The plastic surgeon said he would discuss all of this with my surgeon.

Update: I have an appointment to see the radiologist on Wednesday to see if radiation therapy is a possibility.

Please keep us in your prayers.

"Behold, I make all things new." -Revelation 21:5

Monday, December 3, 2012

Surgeon Follow-up

The lymph node site has healed quite nicely, so the check-up on that was pretty quick. 
We spent most of the time discussing with the doctor the options of lumpectomy vs. mastectomy, as we are still on the fence about which to go with. Initially we thought we would go with the mastectomy simply so the worry of reoccurence would be lessened, but upon looking into it further, it seems that the the percentages chances are the same with the mastectomy and the lumpectomy plus radiation. When we spoke about it with our GP, he said that some studies done lean a small percentage one way and other studies lean a small percentage the other way. From talking to the surgeon, it seems that I am in that small group in which it could go either way, as there are factors that would pull one in one direction and other factors that would pull one to the other direction, but nothing definitive either way. I could go for the lumpectomy, and radiation therapy afterwards. If cancer is found around the edges of the tissue she takes out, then she will have to go in and either get more tissue or do the mastectomy then, but if no cancer cells are found around the edges of the tissue, can can then go on to the next step of the treatment. I will have to do the hormone chemotherapy either way, and perhaps the traditional chemotherapy either way as well. If I do the mastectomy from the start, I may not have to do radiation therapy, but it is a much more difficult surgery to recover from, both physically and emotionally, and may require a few different surgeries. I suppose that I should consider the options to choose from a good thing, and I am sure that if the decision was being made for me, I would wish I had the decision to make, but trying to weigh all the factors right now seems more difficult a process than the comfort in the freedom of the choice is giving me. We are to see the Plastic Surgeon tomorrow. Perhaps that will give us more information to make the decision on.

Please keep us in your prayers.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path."
-Proverbs 3:5,6

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Happy Day

My surgeon's office called to say that there was no cancer cells found in the lymph nodes. A happy day, indeed.

Please keep us in your prayers.

“…For your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” -Matt. 6:8

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Lymph Nodes are Removed

Steven left me off at the hospital early in the morning, knowing that I would be there all day. He tells me again that he wishes he could spend all day with me there, but this week is the most busy time period for his job as there are a lot of mailings to do for Black Friday. I am really okay about being there by myself I tell him because I always feel so much worse for the people seeing me suffer than I am for my own suffering. I just don't feel up to worrying about others right now.
The nurses get all the paperwork done and I dress in a hospital gown and get into bed. They get a bag of  water going in my arm, and get a urine sample to test for pregnancy, just in case. It comes back negative. Sandy drops by after teaching in the morning and stays for a couple of hours. Meanwhile, the doctor in charge of inserting me with radioactive material comes in with three needles. They raise the head of the bed and he inserts these in my breast around the area of the lump, which turns out to be the most painful part of the whole procedure done this day. He is apologetic about hurting me, which was so kind. Sandy tells me that I can squeeze her hand just like I did during delivery of each of the five babies, but that hand has the needle in it for the water, so it is too weak to squeeze. 
The nurse massages the area to help get the material spreading around. I am instructed to shift around every few minutes and even get up and walk around to get the radioactive material going to the lymph nodes. This helps the doctor to find them for removal. After a while Sandy leaves for a meeting at work, but she brings Sam back to stay with me, but by this time, they are wheeling me off to the surgery prep area, so he has to stay in my room and wait for me. 
The surgeon checks to see if the radioactive material has made it to the lymph nodes with this piece of machinery that looks like a tape recorder with a microphone. She puts the microphone looking piece up to my arm pit and it makes this sound like a metal detector. I must admit, it was quite cool. I am introduced to the anesthesiologist and my nurse. They explain everything that is going to happen to me, including everything while I am asleep, which I find very reassuring. It is not knowing what is going to happen which makes me scared. They are all so very kind. They inject the area with blue dye, which also helps with locating the lymph nodes. The nurse tells me that my urine will be blue for a while because of it. They give me morphine for pain, an antibiotic and a pill that makes me go to sleep. 
The next thing I know is that I am waking up in the recovery room a couple of hours later. They wheel me back to my room and I am feeling particularly vulnerable coming out of anesthesia, so Sam's smile is a very reassuring sight. I was glad he was there after all. Not long after, the nurse gives me pain medication and tells me that I am ready to be released in a half-hour. I am surprised since my legs are still shaky, but within a half-hour I am indeed ready to get dressed and leave. I am wheeled out to the car and I am home within minutes, feeling pretty good, all things considered. This first leg of the journey is complete. My next appointment is with the surgeon on Monday, December 3 to check the area for recovery and to give me the results of the testing on the lymph nodes. On Tuesday, December 4th, I meet with the plastic surgeon to talk about breast reconstruction because reconstruction begins at the same time as the mastectomy. All the decisions on that have to be made, then, before I go in for the mastectomy. We are all hoping this will be completed so that I can be in recovery during Christmas.

Please keep us in your prayers.

“…For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” 
~Phil 4:11-13

Friday, November 16, 2012

Pre-Op Tests

Today I went to the hospital for insurance pre-authorization, blood tests, chest x-rays and an EKG for the lymph node removal next week. Sam went with me, but we moved along so quickly from one test to the next, we didn't have much chance to talk. Other than the fact they had a hard time finding a vein for the blood test, everything went well. The surgery is slated for Tuesday morning.
I also announce it on my blog, as I am not sure how treatment will affect my regular posting. I want to be upbeat and make this a blessing to someone else who may be going through similar circumstances, but I am not sure how yet.
Please keep us in your prayers.

“I am with you always…” -Matt. 28:20

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Surgeon

Steven and I met with the surgeon on this day. She was very kind and caring and talked us through all the steps we would be going through. She said that she would not say exactly what stage it was until she had more information from the lymph node removal and the removal of the lump. She outlined the options of a lumpectomy, in which the lump and some tissue surrounding it are removed or the mastectomy, in which the whole breast is removed. She said that the chances of recovery (90-95%) were the same with both procedures but if the lab said that if we chose the lumpectomy  and the lab found that there were cancerous cells in the tissue around the lump, she would have to do a second operation, getting more tissue out. Steven and I both felt that we would be more comfortable with the mastectomy option. During one point in the discussion, it all became so painfully real, like a big avalanche hitting me all at once, I began shaking all over and felt as if I was going to faint. Steven recognized this and came over to hug me. The next step, the removal of some of the lymph nodes to see if the cancer cells had yet move to them was scheduled. She explained that after the mastectomy, I would undergo chemotherapy, but probably a newer type that did not require a port inserted, did not cause hair loss and the nausea was much less, if at all. There was a 50% chance that I would also need radiation therapy down the road as well. 
During the following days,  thoughts of my not seeing my kids grow up and not seeing my grandchildren ...or even not even seeing next year kept hitting me at unexpected moments and with sudden overwhelming pain. This would develop into a growing strength in conviction that I was going to do everything in my power to live!
Now that I have a little more information, I email a few good friends to tell them the news, and then later on announce it on FB, requesting prayer.
Please keep us in your prayers.

“I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee…”
2 Kings 20:5

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Doc Calls

(on right)

My GP called to see how we all were doing and to expressed how surprised he was too. His office set me up for an appointment for the surgeon for the following Monday.
At some point, I break the news to the little ones, but reassure them that I am going to be okay. I am afraid to use the c-word with them because they know of a good friend who died of cancer, but I eventually do.
Steven and I take James to a pre-scheduled doctor's appointment. I was planning all along to go alone, but Steven doesn't want to leave me alone now.
Please keep us in your prayers.

“…for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things…”
~Matt. 6:32

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Mammogram, etc.

This was my first mammogram, but the radiologist and staff were so friendly and kind that it was not a bad experience at all. I was then off to the already scheduled sonogram. Lots of getting dressed and getting undressed. : ) 
I watched as the technician did the sonogram of the mass, and I was still thinking at this point that it was nothing so I found watching quite interesting.She then left to get them signed off by the doctor. She came back and said that the doctor was coming, and she was going to get some additional pictures meanwhile. She began getting sonogram pictures of my underarms and it was then I realized that something must not be right.
A few minutes later the doctor came in, looked at the sonograms of my underarm and then sat down to tell me that it was a cancerous mass, and from its size (they guessed that it was about 2.5 cm) she estimated that it was a stage 2 cancer. She said that, from the sonogram pictures, it did not look as if it had migrated to the lymph nodes, which is where the cancer would travel if it were to move out of the mass. She said that she would like to complete a biopsy now, if possible. I called Steven and told him that I had cancer, that I would be staying later for a biopsy and asked him to call Sandy (my best friend) and tell her. It was a lot for him to digest in one tiny call.
The doctor gave me a local and then made a tiny incision in my breast. She then placed an instrument in that grabs pieces of the tumor for testing, which sounded a lot like a staple gun. They thought that I might be interested in watching the process on a screen, but now that I knew it was cancer instead of just a benign lump, it wasn't fun anymore and I didn't want to look at it at all. I just felt sick to my stomach. She took three pieces for pathology. They also inserted a marker so that in all future mammograms and the like they would know exactly where to look. I must mention that although it measured about 2.5 cm, which sounds like a lot, everyone that examined me had a little difficulty in finding it. It really didn't seem that large by touch. They now sent me down to get a second set of mammograms.
The technician there was not surprised to see me as she recognized it as a cancerous mass in the first set. By this time Sandy had cancelled her class (she is a college professor) and had come to guide me through these last tests and took me home. They gave me a large pink book that tells all the ins-and-outs of this world I was now a part of, but I asked Sandy to slip it in her backpack because I was not yet ready to share this with the kids. We had to now go through the motions of a birthday dinner out at a restaurant and cake at home. It was actually a good thing because I was able to forget about it a little and let it slowly sink in.

Please keep us in your prayers.

"I cry aloud to the LORD; I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy.
I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble.
When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way.
I cry to you, O LORD; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion …”
~ A prayer of David when he was trapped in the cave, Psalm 142

Monday, October 15, 2012

In The Beginning...

Many friends and family know the beginnings of my story, but I thought I should start at the beginning. Last week I noticed a sizeable lump at the top portion of my right breast. I have had a small lump come and go at this particular place ever since I breastfed Quentin eight years ago and had mastitis. My GP (in Maryland) had felt it and thought it was a fibroid and nothing to worry about.
Since it had become sizeable, I decided to make an appointment with my GP to get a mammogram and make sure it was nothing. On October 15th, I saw him and he sent me for a mammogram and a sonogram, which, ironically were set for my next birthday, November 7th. At this point I was still sure that it was nothing.

Please keep us in your prayers.

“Hear my cry, O God: attend unto my prayer. From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy.”
Psalm 61:1-2