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Pinktober is upon us...

Hi #teamklb,

As this is the week of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer and September being Ovarian Cancer month and October being Breast Cancer month, I though I would take this opportunity to share my thoughts and feelings on everything turning pink. But first a little background.[...]

Cancerversary

Hi Team KLB,

Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of the day my whole world changed. I've been reliving the emotions that I felt leading up to my biopsy and diagnosis. Lately, I've also been thinking about those first few days and weeks post diagnosis and remembering just how hard it was. As of now, I feel slightly numb to how hard it was to process things in the beginning. Sometimes I talk about having Cancer like it was a cold. While I know it was nothing like that, I'm so used to it now, that's it's just my new normal.[...]

First Lumperversary

Hey there world! Well today is my "lumperversary". Over the next several months, there will be many significant days in my cancer journey. Be forewarned, I may be more emotional than normal. One year ago, as I was getting ready for a long day of work and then school, I touched my breast and felt the lump. I remember my heart started racing and then I sunk to floor and cried. I felt both breasts all over to see if I was imagining it or if there were any others. I couldn't feel any others, but it didn't make the other one feel any less scary. Moments after, I called Jim at work and in tears, told him that I had found a lump in my breast. He asked some very investigative questions and then did his best to reassure me that I was going to be fine. After I hung up the phone, I threw my deodorant away and then threw away all the plastic Tupperware. It may have been a slightly irrational act, but I stand by the no plasticware and no chemical deodorant. I tried not to think about it throughout the day and to avoid crying, but it was inevitable. When I got to work, I called to get the first appointment available, which was the following Monday. During the day, Jim went into investigative mode, and sent me all sorts of articles to give me information about what it could possibly be. Jim went with me to the appointment. My ob/gyn said she thought it was fine, it probably wasn't cancer, it was likely a fibroadenoma (a cyst type of lump that grows with ones cycle over many years, common in women in their 20s). The lump felt like a oblong green grape. Very firm, and oval shaped. She calmed my fears, but suggested that I get an ultra sound and a mammogram, just in case. I left feeling like it was going to be fine. My fear-o-meter was now on low. The first appointment was a week later and I had told Jim that he didn't have to go with me to the next appointment (I was feeling pretty confident). I had read that you could request to have the ultra sound first, and if they could be sure from the ultra sound that it wasn't cancer, then you could avoid a mammogram, so that's what I requested. They did the ultra sound and then had me meet with the radiologist. I remember walking into her office and seeing a box of tissues and thinking why do they need tissues and then, "oh, the tissues are for women that get told they have cancer". The radiologist said that it did look like a fibroadenoma, but it had some irregular borders (I now know that's because it was invasive and had spread to the surrounding breast tissue), so they wanted to do a biopsy to confirm. My fear-o-meter was now on medium. Two and a half weeks after that, I went in for the biopsy. This was the most painful part of the whole process. They numbed the area (not well enough) and cut a small incision in the side of my breast and inserted a very large needle into the breast and also the lump (I later found out the needle was about the size of my pinky!). They used an ultrasound to guide the needle's entry into the lump. After the doctor was done, the nurse put some skin glue on it and then applied a lot of pressure. I remember feeling like I was about to pass out while she was putting pressure on my breast. Over the next several days it was painful and swollen. My right armpit (axilliary lymph nodes) was swollen and in pain too. Fear-o-meter: on high. Up to this point, I really hadn't told anyone except for Jim, my mom, and my brother. It wasn't that I didn't want to talk, it was that I knew that I was going to cry and cry a lot, and I didn't want to have to do that if it was nothing. I couldn't wait until I could share with everyone that I had had a scare, but was in the clear. I was very anxiously waiting for the phone call from my doctor. When I got the voicemail on June 3rd (Jim and I's 13th dating anniversary), I thought about listening to it during the work day, but my gut told me to wait until the end of the day because if it was bad news, I knew I wasn't going to be able to pull myself together enough to teach for the rest of the day, and then I would have to tell everyone. I listened to the voicemail after school and then called the doctor because the voicemail only asked that I call her back. The doctor picks up and says, "Katie, I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but it's cancer. My heart sunk. Surprisingly I didn't cry on the phone. I hung up the phone and called Jim. The first words out of my mouth were "It's cancer". I couldn't muster a "hi honey" or any pleasantries (I have since apologized for just dropping a bomb like that on him; he didn't care about that at all.) Jim asked if we should still go out to dinner to celebrate our anniversary, I said yes. I knew I wouldn't be able to celebrate as if things were normal, but I also didn't know anything about the cancer I had. I thought this could be the last dating anniversary we celebrate, so yes, we're still going out. Next I called my mom, she said, "how are you are you doing?" I shakily replied, "I've had better days." She knew. I said, "it's cancer." She said she wanted to stop by on her way home from work to give me a hug. It was a pretty somber evening. When Jared and Amy were home, we went next door and I shared my bad news with them. I knew that I still wasn't up for calling friends and family and telling them about it, so I drafted an email and sent it out. I still remember every response that I got from friends and family. Each one made me cry. I was not ready to tell my coworkers yet, because I knew I would just lose it and not be able to pull myself together. We had three days left of school. I had report cards to do and promotion to get through. In my mind I needed to just get through the next few days. I was going to wait a little longer before "coming out". Once I decided to share my news, I just needed to do it. Well, there you have it, a recap of a very uneasy and scary time in my life, that began just one year ago. I'm glad to say the worst is behind me. I'm very much looking forward to all of it being behind me and soon enough it will be. A friend of mine (blogger and breast cancer survivor) has a survey about blog impacts, so if you have some time, she'd love your feedback. http://fluidsurveys.com/s/blogimpact/ My love to you all, Katie

96% done

Hi there #teamklb, I have completed 24 of 25 days of radiation so far. I am 96% percent done and will finish tomorrow 3/16. I'm super excited to be finished with this final cancer killing step. First: poison, second: slash, and last: burn (thanks Lilani for that apt description). For the past week and a half, my skin has been IRRITATED. The physical radiation burn has my skin red and hot (no surprise there) and my underarm is really angry. No shaving for a little while, so I'll be a bit stinky :-(. My left breast (no cancer, no radiation in that breast) had a small red dot on it two weeks ago. I'm hyper vigilant now, so when it was still there the next morning, I called my plastic surgeon. They had me come in that day just to check. He said to me, "was it your bra?" I almost laughed. First, I don't need to wear a bra, so why would I? For the first time in about 20 years I haven't needed a bra, so I'm NOT wearing a bra. Second, I'm going through radiation and therefore I'm avoiding all things that would irritate my skin any further. Third, I would have thought of that, I'm not your average idiot patient. The surgeon said it would be extremely unlikely for cancer to regrow in the skin of the non-cancer breast. He said to watch it and he would check on it during my regularly scheduled post radiation appointment at the end of the month. He asked for my surgeon to be available at that time as well in case they need to biopsy it (not an exciting prospect, as the initial biopsy was one of the more painful part of this whole cancer bullshit). He also suggested that I have my radiation oncologist look at it during our weekly appointment. He looked at it this week and thought it was nothing to be concerned about (it was almost gone by the time I saw him). So it appears it was just a skin lesion. Phew. There was a woman in my Living Strong Living Well class that just recently lost her battle to lymphoma. On our first session we simply went around the room and introduced ourselves. I thought, I'm good, I'm not going to cry when say my name, my kind of cancer, and what I value about myself. I was good. Until Paulina spoke. She was fairly young, probably near 40. She said that she had lymphoma and was looking for a bone marrow transplant, but wasn't having any luck finding someone. That's when I remembered that I was lucky to have had Breast Cancer (sounds weird, I know) and that's when it got me. She continued talking and mentioned that she used to be Zumba instructor. That really got me. When I was diagnosed, most people mentioned something about the fact that they couldn't believe I had gotten Cancer because I was so healthy. Clearly Paulina was a really healthy and active person too. Cancer doesn't discriminate. Then it was my turn and of course, the composure that I had, was gone. I quickly took my turn and through a choked up voice said that I valued my positive attitude (...irony...). We didn't see Paulina too much through the weeks of the living strong living well classes. But she was undergoing treatment still, so people have missed classes here and there. I didn't think too much of it. Then on Monday, our trainers informed us of her passing, and said it was a few weeks prior. That was the last time that I remember seeing her, was a few weeks ago. It hit me harder than expected, since I really didn't know her. That night I made a donation in her name to the leukemia and lymphoma society. It got me thinking, when she signed up for this class, I'm sure she didn't know that she would be dying part way through the class. I'm sure that, like me, she thought that this would be a good way to regain the strength that she lost during cancer treatment. I can't imagine what those last week were like for her and her family. And although I don't know her family, I'm sending healing thoughts and love their way.  This has also got me thinking about those first dark days after my diagnosis. Before I knew exactly what I was dealing with (stage, whether it had spread, how long I had to live, etc.) I had decided in my mind what I would do if the news wasn't so great (lucky for me I got significantly better news). Many of you know of my goal to see all fifty states before I turn fifty. Well, I decided that if I was going to die soon, I was going to sell off all my stocks and cash in my investments, and Jim and I were going to road trip across the country so that I could see all fifty states before I died. Obviously we didn't need take that plan of action. I'm very thankful for that.  I've been back to work for the past three weeks now, still working 50% (from 7:45-11:30 every day). It has been, well, a lot of things. 1) Great. I've enjoyed working again and I like my class a lot. It was supposed to be a year a challenging behaviors, but some of those kids have moved. Not going to lie: super stoked about that. I like staying busy and teaching and so that part has been really great. 2) Exhausting. I go straight from work to radiation and then come home and nearly always take a nap or rest. In hindsight, I probably should have stayed out through radiation (Jim is enjoying telling me that he told me so). My Breast Cancer friend, Liz, says that's it's kind of strange because even though it doesn't seem like you're doing much to your body when you are going through radiation, you really are. Liz is very wise. 3) Very strange. It's kind of like I've been in a time warp for the past 8 1/2 months. I know the world carried on without me, but no place is it more apparent than at work. In some cases, like the garden club, it just continued right along (yay!). In other cases, like volleyball, it wasn't going to happen if I didn't come back right at this time. No blame or judgement, it's just an observation and a twilight zone kind of feeling. All these things that happened while I wasn't around and normally I am around for all of it, it just feels strange. 4) Challenging. While my long term sub did the best he could, and I appreciate him very much, he had to start the year off for me without knowing how I normally do things. In a more perfect world, a long term sub takes over the year for you when you already have your procedures and routines in place. Then the kids can help out by letting him or her know how you do things and the structures are already in place. So having to reteach all of this and sort of undo things is frustrating because I would like to be teaching. 5) Appreciated. Everyone has been so kind and caring in welcoming me back. My Braly family really is the best.  I'm still going to my Nutrition school and in the past few classes, cancer has been covered. This has me thinking about the causes of my cancer even more. Here are my main thoughts: Obviously the BRCA1 mutation puts me at a huge risk for Breast Cancer. The gene is on my fathers side of the family (he was one of 11 and there are tons of cousins, the exact number I'm not sure of). I'm the youngest grandchild on that side, so for me to be the first person to find that gene, makes me think that other lifestyle factors caused the cancer to happen so early in my life. From 8/2013-12/2013 I was taking Hormone Replacement Therapy. (Backstory: my migraines happen much more frequently during my menstrual cycle, like everyday, so they are clearly tied to the fluctuations in my hormones, so my neurologist had me wearing a hormone patch during the week of my period for that time frame). The estrogen in the patch, estradiol, is linked to Breast cancer (straight from my lectures in school). Even though my cancer was hormone negative, I believe there is still a link. I was also on the birth control pill for the better part of a decade. One in eight women get breast cancer in our society and how many of them have been on birth control for lengthy periods of time? If I were to have a daughter, I would not want her to take birth control ever. Wrap it up. I know, it feels different, but so does cancer. My point being that prescriptions have side effects and the FDA isn't looking out for us. Big pharma creates a drug and then designs a study to prove its effectiveness and safety to submit to the FDA. Does that seem backwards to anyone else? I sure hope so. Moving along. Antibiotics. How many courses of antibiotics have you been on in your lifetime? If you're like me, it's more than you can count. If you're like my friend Sarah, it is one time, in her wholelife. (That really got me questioning the amount of antibiotics that I've been on.) I've been on them at least once or twice per year since I was about 18. Also, when I was 17ish I went to my dermatologist for acne. She put me on amoxicillin. I was on it for well over a year, but I think it was more than two years. I literally wiped out the colony of bacteria in my digestive system. That colony of bacteria is your first line of defense for everything. I'm not saying antibiotics caused my cancer, but I do think they contributed to my body's inability to fight the cancer. Obviously, these are my opinions and I'm not a doctor. Duh. But my point is that I think western medicine and doctors played a large role in my cancer. If I could go back and change my actions to avoid getting cancer, I would do it in a heartbeat. I can't do that, but maybe I can influence you to think twice before doing some of these things too. [steps off soapbox] Since my birthday is on Wednesday and I finish cancer treatment on Monday, I will be in a very celebratory mood this week. Just nine months ago, this is a birthday that I wasn't sure I would get to celebrate. I'm pretty stoked that I get a thirty-second year of life. Feel free to wear pink tomorrow on the last day of radiation. XOXOXO Katie

Back to work after 8 1/2 months off....

Hi there #teamklb! I hope you are all well. I am doing well and feeling well. I have completed nine of 25 days of radiation so far. I will be finished on March 16th, just two days before my 32nd birthday. I will be very happy to be finished before my birthday. So far, radiation is going well. Not much skin irritation or feelings of exhaustion. (Although I am more tired lately but I've been quite busy planning a surprise party for Jim - it was yesterday and boy, was it fucking awesome!- I'll add more party details here soon) Occasionally, I'll feel a bit more pain in the area that's being radiated - the right breast, but it's pretty infrequent. It is a cumulative process, so I imagine things will start catching up with me soon. I start work tomorrow! (YIKES!) I've had a slough of mixed emotions about it over the past few days, but most of them are positive. I met with my long term sub last week and we discussed the transition back into the classroom. I'll be working from 8:00-11:30 each day and he'll be teaching in the afternoon. This will allow me to slowly ease into things and continue my radiation. My radiation appointments are literally less than a quarter mile from my work, so that makes it easy. After that, I'll have a bit of time to rest in the afternoons. I'm looking forward to getting back into my pre-cancer life. I hope to bring to the classroom an environment that encourages kids to take care of one another and focus on compassion and support for each other. As a kid, I remember thinking that it was really important to be smart (THE most important thing, in fact). My Uncle Bob and I had a conversation about which Disney character was better, I said Mickey because he was smart, while he thought Goofy because he was nice. I very vividly remember this conversation, sitting on the davenport (any non-Essenmachers know what that is? The sofa!) in my grandparents living room. This conversation has always stayed with me, and until becoming a teacher, my answer remained the same. But I now know that being kind is a much more important character trait. From my experience, you can't teach adults to be nice, but you can teach them new things. All of that to say, my classroom will be one that fosters kindness, caring, and support for all students. This is not to say that I never cared about fostering these things before, it has always been important to me, but it is so hard with all the standards and all the students to always make it a priority. But we only get one life, and I want to make sure that my influence on the students is through a learning environment that supports kindness, caring, and support. Although, I will really miss hanging out with the Roxbury dog pack everyday. Many of you know that the BRCA1 genetic mutation that I have also increases my risk for Melanoma, the deadliest of skins cancers. (Thanks to the doctors office pamphlet for that little tidbit of fear-inducing information.) I had my annual mole check the second week of February and the doctor decided she wanted to biopsy a mole on my back just in case. Those four days of waiting we're pretty tough. Jim says he new it would be fine, but I no longer feel that way about any test results. Luckily, it did come back negative and we're all good. The PSA for the day is that you should be doing mole self checks (for me she suggested monthly) and be going to get your skin checked by your doctor as needed. I've said this many times during my cancer treatment, but cancer has taught me that life is for living. Not to put things off or think, maybe next year I'll do that thing that's I've always wanted to do. Nobody has the luxury of time, none of us know our futures. If you want something important in your life, make it happen. Thanks for your continued love and support! I'll continue keeping you updated. Lots of love! Xoxo Katie

Cancer free but treatment drags on

Hello Blogoshphere, Welp, it's been 8 weeks since my surgery (as of tomorrow). I can't believe it's been 8 weeks. The first few weeks passed slow, but the month of January has flown by. A friend from support group messaged me the day before surgery to help reassure me and to tell me that her surgery really wasn't something that she remembers well because it really wasn't that bad. While I couldn't believe it then, I do believe it now. I do remember many details of my surgery, but it really wasn't all that bad. (Thank goodness!!!!) After reading a friend's blog, I'm going to take my inspiration from her and do a little Q & A section. Q: Are you bored yet? / What do you do with your time? A: Nope. Between crafts, my dollhouse project, visits from friends, exercising, reading, nutrition schoolwork, cooking, housework, and doctors appointments/ treatments, I don't have time to be bored. Q: Do you miss work? A: Not really, but a little bit. I am looking forward to the "new" teacher that I'll be. As I've said before, this has completely and forever changed me, so I'm excited to see that carry over to me as a teacher. Q: Are you going back to work this year? A: Yes. The date has been pushed back several times, but it's finally at a point that I feel comfortable with. Feb. 23rd I go back 50% (half days M-F) and then full time on March 16. Many people have asked why. Here's the long story: In my teacher's unio,n we have a Catastrophic Leave Bank for just such occasions. You can choose to opt in and donate one of your ten days each year to the bank. (We get to bank our personal days each year.) So I had 33 of my own "sick" days to use to start the year off. After that I've been collecting days from the bank. This means that I'm currently not using disability and therefore am getting full pay. I don't want to take advantage of the days from the bank and so I'm choosing to go back at the end of treatment. Hopefully that wasn't too long/confusing! Q: What size are you going for? A: C cup. My coconuts were a very full D cup, and a little more than I wanted, so I'm downsizing. But this feels like a very small C cup, if that. My expanders fit 500 ccs of fluid and as of today they are full. (Yay!) So I can't have them add any more fluid and the radiated skin won't stretch well, so they can't stretch it during my swap out surgery. So this is about as big as I'll get. Not a big deal, but I'm a bit bummed. Q: How do they fill the expanders? A: My plastic surgeon uses a magnet to find the magnet in my expander (like a stud finder :), then marks my skin. Next, he cleans the area with iodine, then fills a syringe with saline and pokes it into the skin and then injects the fluid. He empties the syringe, unscrews the syringe, LEAVES THE NEEDLE IN, fills the syringe again, screws it back in, and then empties that syringe into my expander. Repeat on left expander. Each syringe holds 50 ccs, and I was having him do 100 ccs per doctor visit (hence the refilling of the syringe). I told Jim that this is what it feels like to be a bike tire or a basketball being inflated. I only felt a little poke for each needle and then a bit of discomfort as the skin stretches to make room for the new fluid. Overall, very painless for me. Q: What's your timeline like? A: Regularly scheduled radiation starts on 2/9. 25 sessions (5 days/ week for 5 weeks). It will be finished by March 13th. Six months after radiation, I can have the swap out surgery. I've been told it's easier than the original surgery, with a quicker recovery. After that (I'm guessing mid October) I'll have nipples made. The plastic surgeon makes some cuts in the skin and sutures the skin in a way to make a protrusion. After that is finished, he can tattoo an areola on (I'm hoping mid November). Around the one year anniversary of my remission (my re birth day - 12/8) we will be having a huge celebration. Stay tuned for more details. So today was my radiation simulation. Basically they make you lay in a table for a hour and figure out exactly where they are going to radiate you. It's long and a bit uncomfortable, but mostly uneventful. Except at the end, when they gave me two tattoos. They are very small dots, one on the right side of my rib cage (didn't hurt), and one on my breast bone (hurt). I thought that radiation would start right after (tomorrow). WRONG! They have to review some stuff, and blah, blah, blah. It doesn't start for two more weeks. There goes my timeline again! Here's an assortment of random thoughts that have crossed my mind lately. In no particular order: A friend of a friend, Melissa Galvin, a former 49ers cheerleader, just lost her battle with breast cancer. She was 34. She had breast cancer several years ago, and it had come back after being in remission. She has been on my mind a LOT lately. This is a fear that I will live with everyday. Here is more on her story: http://www.49ers.com/news/article-2/Former-Gold-Rush-Cheerleader-Melissa-Galvin-Passes-Away-at-34/35e6751e-2e5f-46e2-bde2-b8a30f29f146 While in Anaheim, I was able to meet Jim's drumming buddy Justin. We had an instant bond. He has a rare heart condition and initially his odds weren't very good. He also knows what's it's like to wonder if you'll be the person that dies tragically young. Luckily, he just celebrated his 3rd rebirth day. It was really great to meet him. Someone women choose not have reconstruction. I always knew I would do reconstruction, but for the time that I didn't have any breasts at all, for about 3 weeks, it was so awkward. I felt the need to tell everyone everywhere I went, strangers included, that I just had a mastectomy and that's why I looked like this. This helped me to know that immediate reconstruction was the right path for me. A lot of hardships for my work family in 2014. I won't to into detail here, as they are not my stories to tell, but it has been really challenging for me to deal with these sad times for others. And while this might sound crazy (I take pride in being honest and open on my blog) I'm really a little worried that there might be some sort of curse. I know, crazy, right, but it's my fear. Yesterday I started the Living Strong, Living Well program at the YMCA. It is a free program for cancer survivors to help regain strength, flexibility, and coordination. I was the youngest person there. Luckily, a friend from support group is doing it with me (Yay!), so I won't have to go it alone. I'm hoping that this will help put me on the road to shedding this chemo weight. I've also started physical therapy on my knees for pain that I was having last spring. The knee pain has only increased with the loss of my muscle mass during chemo and after surgery. This year I didn't make any New Years resolutions, but I have some resolutions that I made after I was diagnosed. Basically: Live everyday to the fullest. I'm still trying to work on this one. Nothing is as shitty as hearing, "Katie, I'm so sorry to have to tell you this, but you have cancer", so all the little stupid shit is not worth my time and energy. Also, make time for the people that are important in your life, see them, talk to them, be there for them, because our time here is too short. Ok, that's all folks! Thanks for all that you are Team KLB! Xoxoxoxoxo, Katie Causes of my breast cancer.

Rescheduled

Hi There! For those of you that haven't heard, my surgeon is out stick, so my surgery has to be rescheduled. Unfortunately, the first available date for my surgeon, plastic surgeon, and El Camino Hospital is 12/3 - two weeks later. While I want my surgeon to be healthy for my surgery, I just wish it didn't have to be delayed so long. It's also challenging because I was just getting into the right frame of mind for surgery and was feeling excited to have it and get it over with so that I can start moving on. My other biggest disappointment =  on Dec 5th and 6th is the Santa Clara Historic Homes tour. Every year Jared and I ride our bikes from house to house. It is seriously one of my MOST FAVORITE days of the year. AND the house I have been coveting for 12 years is finally going to be on the tour. Wah!!!!! But enough complaining, here are a couple of positive outcomes: I get to put up my own Christmas decorations (thanks for your offers of help, but I really LOVE to put up the decorations), I have more time to practice my Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster meditation, I will be able to work on some school work/ nutrition client work, I will have more time to exercise/ work on this chemo weight, and maybe I'll work on my dollhouse. Oh and since everything got rescheduled, I made a new goggle doc for meals and walking buddies. Here it is: https://docs.google.com/document/d/18d098P3F2_1_qQ2fLoH7V8tmh7EjyWrwTGM2_7lDbdY/edit?usp=sharing If you already scheduled yourself, please check your calendar and update this one.[...]