Thursday, April 18, 2019

Three little letters

I am an impatient person, always have been, always will be. And while that's not always a good thing, it's the truth. I just hate waiting.

On Tuesday, I spent most of the day at the cancer treatment center. I was scheduled for a biopsy. Dr. H had found an enlarged lymph node along my left clavicle at my last exam. Since that visit, I'd had an ultrasound performed which defined a fairly large node just under my left collar bone. Those findings led the doctor to order an ultrasound-guided biopsy but the thing is, when I went in for the test to be performed, the little radiology tech couldn't find the node! She kept passing the ultrasound wand over and over the area where the node had been. She snapped photos of what she thought might have been the place Dr. H wanted to biopsy. She turned those photos in to the head radiologist for his opinion. She even brought him back into the exam room to talk with me. When he arrived, I didn't know what to think but as a big grin crossed his face, I knew everything was going to be okay.

Although the node wasn't showing up on the ultrasound scan and although no biopsy was performed, Dr. H, along with the radiologist, felt a repeat PET SCAN was due. (I'd had my last scan done in 2015 and I'm sure they felt that 4 years could have led to some notable changes in my body.)

Yesterday, I spent most of the afternoon at the cancer treatment center. First, I was intravenously administered a radioactive tracer. Then it was time to wait. I was told I'd have to wait about an hour for the tracer to course through my system.

After gathering the radioactive vial and other materials, the nurse turned down the lights, brought me a warm blanket, and left the room. I assumed the ambient lighting was to help me relax and possibly even fall asleep, but they didn't know me. I don't nap during the day.

I got up and turned up the lights and began reading a book I'd pilfered from the library on the second floor earlier that day. As I read, I noticed the room was beginning to get colder and colder. Although I had that thin little warmed blanket the nurse had given me earlier, I was freezing! So I got up again and tried to adjust the thermostat in the room but was unable to do so. Apparently, it was controlled elsewhere in the building so I made the best of a bad situation and covered myself from top to bottom with that little blanket.

When the time was up, the nurse came back into the room and told me to empty my bladder. I was so happy to hear her say that! I was about to burst from drinking all the water they'd encouraged during my time there and the coolness of the room exacerbated my feelings of urgency.

After taking care of business, I was taken into the room for the scan. The positron emission tomography scan (PET SCAN) would look at all my bones, tissues and organs. The radioactive tracer would illuminate any trouble spots indicating a probable recurrence of cancer. I was nervous about the test and since I don't do well in confined spaces, I'd taken the anti-anxiety meds the doctor had prescribed for me before being put into the scanning machine. They helped me relax enough to withstand the scan without feeling anxious.

The test was over fairly quickly. I don't think it lasted more than about 15-20 minutes. When the test was over, I asked the tech when I could expect to receive the results. She assured me I'd hear from my oncologist the following day.

All night long I tried my best not to worry. I didn't want to think about the possibility of a recurrence. As I prayed before bed, I told God I'd accept either verdict. If He saw fit for me to go through another round of cancer, so be it. And, if He saw fit to allow me to remain cancer-free, then I'd accept that, too. By coming to terms with whatever God chose to bring my way, I fell asleep peacefully and slept soundly through the night.

I woke up bright and early. From 5:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. I waited patiently to hear from the doctor. I sat by the phone in my office expecting it to ring any minute.

When I finally received word that I was still cancer free, I wanted to dance around the room! I was so grateful and so humbled.

In His goodness, God has allowed me to remain cancer free for almost 5 years. I know so many others who've passed away during that time from breast cancer. I have no idea why God's chosen to allow me His favor, but I will gladly accept it. And I'll treasure those three little letters, N.E.D., every day from this day forward.

For those who've never experienced breast cancer, it's hard to explain what living under an umbrella of fear feels like. It's hard to be on constant guard for the most recent results from bloodwork, scans, or other tests. Sometimes, it seems like they'll never end and for most us, even if we're in a state of remission, we'll continue to be under the watchful eye of a doctor for the rest of our lives.

Cancer is a tricky disease. It can pop back up and become active at any time. Many times, a recurrence appears within a few years after the initial diagnosis and other times, it can appear decades later. But for those of us who've had our lives touched by cancer, we have to learn to continue our lives. We can't live in a state of constant fear - that's a very unhealthy place to be. So on this day, I am celebrating! Fear has no power over me!

And one thing I know for sure...God is good, all the time. He's got a plan for my life and I am choosing to walk in it. I will trust Him no matter what because I know He has numbered my days. No one can pluck me out of His MIGHTY, OMNIPOTENT hand.

Celebrate with me, won't you? N.E.D. seems such a tiny little acronym for such a big blessing but I'll take it!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Dodged a bullet today, yay!

The biopsy setup with all those sharp instruments
Today I was scheduled for a biopsy on an enlarged lymph node on my left clavicle. I wasn't looking forward to it, biopsies hurt, but I trusted my doctor and knew he was watching out for my well being.

As I got ready for the trip to the cancer treatment center, I didn't realize how nervous I was about today's visit until I started to put in my earrings. My hands were shaking so badly I couldn't find the hole to insert my earring. That was not a good sign. I must have been internally fearful and my body's fight or flight system was saying, run, run, run! I didn't run. I realized I had to put on my big girl panties and be brave. I've been having to do that a lot lately.

When I got to the cancer treatment center, the imaging room was packed full. As I glanced around, I saw some familiar faces and many new ones. After check-in, I found a seat and waited to be called back. Usually, it only takes a few minutes. Today, it took almost half an hour.

When it was my turn to go back, I followed the quick-stepping young nurse as fast as I could. She was definitely a power walker! I was having to take 3 steps to every one of hers. We reached the room and she handed me a gown and a warm blanket. I wanted to say, "I know the drill," but I didn't. As she left the room, I slipped off my clothes and donned the gown with the ribbon ties in the front. After waiting for about ten minutes, the nurse came back in and we got started.

She took the warm conductive gel and smeared it on the ultrasound wand. I pushed my hair back behind my ear to keep the gook from gumming up my freshly washed hair. Over and over again, the nurse passed the wand across my clavicle pausing now and then to snap a photo of what she was seeing. When she was done, she left the room to show the radiologist the film.

I waited until the radiologist came in. I didn't know what to expect as he sat beside me on the gurney. He smiled a big smile and said, "You don't need a biopsy today. The lymph node has shrunk since your last visit to Dr. H." I was so thankful to hear those words. I was not going to have to endure the pain of having a large needle inserted into my neck, WOOHOO! But, I wasn't out of the woods yet. The radiologist said my oncologist had requested I have a PET scan and that would be done tomorrow. My last one was done in 2015 so they felt it was time for another.

Ultrasound ready for my scan
With my five year cancerversary just around the corner, I'm hoping I get an all clear from this PET scan. It's my hope that I don't have to come back to the cancer treatment center for an entire year. So, I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hoping for the best. I'm trusting God either way. If He deems it necessary for me to experience a recurrence, so be it. I'll know its His will. And, if He gives me a free and clear scan, I'll know His will is for me to move past this cancer mess and get on with my life. Either way, He's a good God and He knows what is in store for my future.

So that's where we stand today. I am grateful and I am blessed. Until tomorrow....
Happy me - no needles today!

Friday, April 12, 2019

CBD is working for me!

When my naturopathic doctor recommended I begin using cannabidiol, CBD, to help manage pain, I was shocked. I was very unfamiliar with CBD. Although I’d been seeing and hearing a lot about it on social media, the only thing I really knew was what I’d read. I had no first hand knowledge. I did understand that CBD was derived from the same plant known as marijuana, or Cannabis Sativa. CBD, according to my doctor, was the good part, the part without the psychoactive component of the plant called tetrahydrocannabinol otherwise known as THC. Taking CBD oil, he assured, would not cause me to feel “high.”  

For many months, the post cancer pain I’d been experiencing had grown increasingly troublesome. I’d visited the doctor several times to find a solution and we’d discussed options such as chiropractic care, acupuncture, nerve blocks, and even surgery. Not only was I suffering from post cancer body pain, I also struggled with secondary lymphedema, degenerative spinal issues, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The pain and the anxiety I felt on a daily basis,  had become overwhelming. I needed help but didn’t want to go the prescription pain medication route. I was fearful about the possibility of addiction.

The doctor recommended I take two cannabinoids, cannabigerol and cannabidiol. Cannibigerol, CBG, was a lesser known cannabinoid that worked well with the body’s own endocannabinoid system. I didn’t really understand it but according to information found on the website, things became a little more clear. Their site said, “To understand the human endocannabinoid system, it’s helpful to know a little about one of the most fundamental concepts in biology: homeostasis. And the best way to understand homeostasis is to think of Goldilocks and the three bears. That classic fairy tale illustrated the idea that the best outcome often lies somewhere in the middle, between two extremes. We don’t want things too hot or too cold, but just right. Homeostasis is the concept that most biological systems are actively regulated to maintain conditions within a narrow range. Our body doesn’t want its temperature to be too hot or too cold, blood sugar levels too high or too low, and so on. Conditions need to be just right for our cells to maintain optimum performance, and exquisite mechanisms have evolved to draw them back to the Goldilocks zone if they move out. The body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a vital molecular system for helping maintain homeostasis—it helps cells stay in their Goldilocks zone.”

After reading that information, I did think CBD would be good for my body. Anything that could help keep things in balance and prevent a recurrence of cancer was for me.

Along with the CBG, it was also recommended I begin taking cannabidiol, CBD, another natural component of the cannabis plant. Taking the CBG and CBD in conjunction with one another should give me good results, the doctor assured me.

Leaving the cancer treatment center, I was given information to purchase the CBG and CBD tinctures locally. The mom and pop shop selling the cannabis products was just around the corner from the hospital, so I went immediately to make my purchases.

Upon entering the shop, I felt skittish. I had no idea what I needed to buy. The shop owner began to show and explain about each product. I could choose tinctures, which were oil based, gel capsules, vaping pens, or even gummy candies. There were many strengths available, too. Relying on the advice of the shop owner, I left the store with one small bottle of CBG and one of CBD. Each one-ounce bottle cost just under $100.

Taking the products home, I planned the first dose of CBG after lunch. Assuming it would be best taken with food, I was excited and nervous.

Drawing up the greenish oil into the glass dropper, I readied my mouth to accept the liquid. I’d been instructed to place one dropper full of oil underneath my tongue. As I did so, I noticed a heady taste, almost like liquid grass. There were no immediate side effects noticed after ingesting, but I’d been told it could take up to two hours for the effects to be felt. I made a mental note to watch for side effects and share them with my physician.

That evening, I took my next dose. This time I’d be trying the CBD oil. Unlike the CBG, this tincture had been flavored with peppermint oil to make it more palatable. The taste was definitely better but even without a flavoring, the taste of the CBG hadn’t been unbearable, just different.

The effects of the CBD weren’t realized until the following morning when I discovered I’d slept soundly through the night, the first time I’d done that in several years.

Continuing to use the CBG and the CBD oils for the next few days, I noticed a significant decrease in my pain level. In fact, I barely noticed any pain at all! A feeling of relaxation was present as well. I was pleasantly surprised. These were significant changes that could only be attributed to the tinctures.

At the beginning of the third week, I found it necessary to add another dropper of the CBG to my daily regimen. I’d been only taking one dropper full of CBG in the morning and one dropperful of CBD at night before bed. With only two doses a day, I’d find myself needing something during the middle of the day as breakthrough pain would begin. “Since each body is different,” the doctor had said, I would need to make adjustments “to find what worked best.” In essence, I was going to have to be a human guinea pig.  

After a month of using both products, my overall physical health has improved. I’ve finally found the right combination of CBG and CBD that work for me. Before the products, controlling bodily pain was a challenge. I’d tried over the counter anti-inflammatory medication but it didn’t help.  With the cannabinoids, I could definitely tell a difference. I was surprised at how quickly the benefits appeared.

The products I used for this experiment contained 24 mg of cannabidiol per dropper, but as I’ve searched online for other products, I’ve noticed most of them contain lesser amounts of CBD per ml.  Conducting an online search for comparable products has been daunting. There are so many companies selling CBD products. Since none are federally regulated or tested, the consumer shoulders the responsibility to research products and companies before making a purchase.

A wide variety of products are available for consumers. Some companies making and selling these products are transparent about which parts of the cannabis plant are used in making their products and some are not. Some claim hemp oil is the same thing as CBD, but that’s inaccurate. Hemp oil is made from the seeds of the cannabis plant while cannabis oil comes from the flowers, leaves, and stalks.

And while CBD doesn’t contain enough THC to get a person high, there are definite benefits to using it. Cannabidiol has been shown to help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, reduce pain and inflammation, reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures, reduce inflammation related to diabetes, and may even help fight cancer!

Some states have legalized the use of Cannabis for medicinal reasons while others have approved the use of CBD products as long as they fall under the category of being a hemp only product. Hemp oil products can provide an alternative to medical marijuana for those who are unable to legally obtain it in their state.

If interested in trying CBD products, please do your homework. Not all companies are legitimate in their product advertisement. Remember the old adage, buyer beware. CBD products are popular but they’re also unregulated. Without government guidelines, some companies provide substandard products that may contain unhealthy ingredients such as pesticides or solvents.  

When shopping for CBD oil, how can you know that you’re getting a quality product? Legitimate companies interested in providing quality products for their consumers adhere to specific guidelines and standards they’ve set for themselves. They are usually willing to be openly share details of their product making and quickly answer consumers’ questions. These companies may also use third party testing to verify product quality.

The market is saturated with an ever-growing number of companies selling products made from the cannabis plant. However, with a little research, it is possible to make a wise decision and reap the healthy benefits of CBD.

If interested in trying CBD for health benefits, talk with your medical professional. Ask for suggestions on usage and for suggestions on suppliers.

Bottom line – I have been pleasantly surprised by CBG and CBD. It was helpful to have guidance from a medical professional on where to purchase a safe, quality product, what dosage to consume, and how to alleviate pain naturally. I don’t think I could have made an informed decision on my own without some guidance.

There are so many things to consider when buying CBG and CBD. There are literally thousands of products available online. Conducting your own internet search will provide a lot of valuable information and you’ll probably learn some new terms such as terpenes, and terpenoids.

If you’d prefer a shortcut to choosing products, check out this site for a quick introduction.

Using CBG and CBD can be part of an alternative therapy program, but as stated earlier in this post, each person’s body is different and the results may not always be the same. Each person must decide what is right for his/her own health.

Most CBG and CBD products on the market today contain under 0.3% THC. This is important to note especially when making purchases in states that have not legalized marijuana. Any product containing more THC would fall under the guidelines of those used for medical marijuana and may require a written prescription for purchase and carry.

Disclosure: The results I’ve received since using these tinctures has been amazing. I will continue to use the CBG and CBD products because of the beneficial results I’ve experienced. I will give a positive report to my oncologist at my visit next month.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Don't forget where you've been

My mother always told me to look where I was going. More than likely she started speaking those words to me when I was very young but I don't really remember when I first started to hear her chide me. 

What I do know is that as a daydreamer/multi-tasker, my focus has never on what was immediately in front of me. My head was always swiveling, trying to see not only where I was going but where I'd been. That was not necessarily a good thing and often, I ended up with scrapes and bruises from my inattention. But, looking back isn't always a bad thing. In fact, it can be a very good thing. 

Sometimes it's necessary to take a look back in order to see how far you've come. 

Today, as I was working to free up some space on my Google drive, I came across a multitude of photos from my cancer journey. That journey began in June of 2014. As I started to look through the photos, I became overwhelmed. Although it's been almost 5 years since my diagnosis, it seems like it was only yesterday. 

One of the photos that particularly impacted me was a picture of my naked torso. In that photo, I'd already had my breasts removed and had almost completely healed from that surgery. The photo was taken at the radiation clinic and the staff had just completed their "mark up" for my scheduled treatments. The dots and lines they'd applied with a Sharpie marker wouldn't stay on permanently but they'd stay on through the first couple of treatments. 

I remember well the day they began to mark up my body. They'd made a fiberglass mold of my upper body for the linear accelerator to insure accurate positioning every time I came in for treatment but then, they'd also explained, the need for markings to help line up the beams of radiation. Without them, some of my vital organs could be damaged. 

Radiation was difficult although I didn't feel a thing while going through the treatments. There were no sharp pains, no ill side effects other than some extreme fatigue and the burns I acquired about halfway through treatment. But later on, down the road, the doctor discovered I'd received some damage to the lower lobe of my right lung. They'd done everything they could to avoid damaging my organs but they could only control the radiation to a certain degree. I'd been warned in advance that the possibility of some residual damage was possible. 

As I looked at the photos of the radiation therapy, I could feel those feelings all over again. The feelings of embarrassment at having to bare my chest to even more people than I'd already done and of the feelings that cancer would never end. I was very down in the dumps during that time and feeling pretty hopeless. It wasn't good. 

But then I flipped through more photos and came across the ones from my first few cancerversaries. We'd had cake and family had come to help me celebrate those important milestones. Those were extremely happy memories and as I remembered those days, I was thankful. 

There were also photos of special trips we'd made to the beach and photos of my new boobs. I'd tried to document every aspect of my journey so my children would be able to look back one day and see how far I'd come. Some of the photos were extremely serious and some were overwhelmingly hilarious. 

Taking a walk down memory lane through Cancerland today was interesting. I'd forgotten about some of those moments but the photos helped remind me. As I looked back, I didn't lose sight of where I am now and I didn't find myself bumping into something that was going to cause me physical pain either. 

It's good to remember where you've been and how much you've overcome. Fighting cancer isn't easy, in fact, there are many, many lessons we learn along the way but some of them aren't realized until we glance back and face reality. 

Breast cancer hasn't been a total negative experience for me. I've learned many things along the way and some of those things I would have never learned were it not for this major health challenge. 

Along with being an "accident waiting to happen" as my mother always called me, I'm also a Pollyanna. My rose colored glasses help me find the good in both the past and in looking toward the future. 

I won't forget where I've been and I certainly won't forget where I'm going. Although I don't have an exact destination here on Earth, I know I'm moving forward one day at a time and that's good enough for me. 

If it ain't one thing, it's another!

  Trying to smile through the pain I've been AWOL for a while now, so this post will more than likely be longer than most. I don't e...