Friday, July 24, 2009

The River of Life

December 23, 2008: Doctor says "Highly Suspicious of Malignancy."

July 23, 2009: Doctors say "No signs of the Cancer" and "You are returned to the River of Life."

A seven month detour, that's all this breast cancer thing was. 7 months exactly, start to finish. There's the celebration with my boys--my two heroes from start to finish: Dr. Amer Karam and Chris Kern. (We're thinking Dr. Karam is growing out his hair for cancer too! It's a little strange to be the only girl at the table and yet the one with the shortest far.)

Yep, yesterday, July 23rd, was the final check-up visit at UCLA. I was able to schedule it so that Chris and I could leave in the morning, head to Mission Wine shop in Pasadena for some wine he needed for Forgotten Grapes, grab a quick lunch, get a mammogram at 1pm, see the radiologist immediately after that (no, seriously, immediately after the mammogram before I even changed back into my clothes, the radiologist was giving me the "no signs of cancer" report!!), see Dr. Glaspy (the oncologist) at 2pm, and then Dr. Karam at 3pm. We were at the Wine House (buying more wine for Forgotten Grapes...and um, me....and some fantastic cheeses!) by 4:30 and Bar Pinxto in Santa Monica by 5:30. An astounding feat in Los Angeles and with medical appointments in general. UCLA continues to impress.

The highlights--

The Mammogram: I've never quite had such a cattle call for a mammogram. They took five of us back at once. Which was great except there was only 3 changing rooms. We took turns, and when I came out I noticed I was the only one who had put my gown on open to the back. I was in the back of the group and had not heard the instructions that these gowns open to the front (and yes, that makes total sense for a mammogram--but wouldn't it make sense for the radiation too? And to the back). One of the ladies explained my mistake to me and I said "I had to wear hospital gowns everyday for 33 days. I guess old habits die hard." Then I went back in the dressing room and flipped my gown around. When I came back out everyone had that squinty "oh, I'm so sorry you have CANCER" look on their faces. And somebody got up to give me her chair. I laughed. I also explained that I had cancer but today was just a check-up to confirm that it's allllllllll gone.

I have to admit, I was a little nervous about whether the mammogram would hurt--the girls, particularly the right one, have been through a lot! I was concerned that squishing her in those plates would be particularly painful. It wasn't. Phew. When I was finished with the exam they had me sit in a separate waiting area to talk to the radiologist (right away. Did I mention that? Right. Away.) There was another woman waiting and we got to talking. She asked about my treatment and I explained "Lumpectomy, chemo, radiation, today is a check-up, but I'm sure I'm all good." She asked a few questions. Among them a very timid "were you just sick the whole time?" I said what I always say (and mean) "I was never nauseous and all in all it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Not even the hair loss, although I'm ready for it to return." She said she thought I looked great. She was also very kind when I came back out after talking to the radiologist and did a little clap when I told her it was all good.

Hours later, after Chris and I had been to Dr. Glaspy and Dr. Karam, we went downstairs to the Revlon Breast Cancer Center (I wanted to see if they have a resource center so I could steal ideas for the one we're working on!). I ran into the same woman again, sitting waiting for an appointment. This is 2 hours after her mammogram. I'm pretty sure she was there because her mammogram was abnormal. For once, I was happy about the things that came out of my mouth. I hope my response to having been through the whole experience was somewhat comforting to her.

Oncology: We saw Dr. Glaspy and I returned to his care "officially." Goodbye bitchy Rancho Cucamonga doctor with way too many patients and not nearly enough patience. Dr. Glaspy, you may recall, was the first oncologist I saw and recommended highly by Dr. Karam. He was the "river boat gambler" (the link will take you back to the post if you'd like a refresher) analogy guy and also the first one to tell me "100% guaranteed loss of hair." And not remarkably friendly. But this time? This time he was super friendly, super kind and full of super good news--which was basically that there were no signs of the cancer, I'd successfully completed all the treatment there was for me (since my former now-dismissed cancer was triple negative there are no medicines or hormones that they can also throw at it "just in case") and he doesn't recommend doing any additional scans because they can do more harm than good. He is the one who said "you are returned to the River of Life." No restrictions. He also said I am highly unlikely to die of breast cancer. It's pretty likely I'll die, but not of breast cancer. And that was pretty cool to hear. He even asked me about my law practice and how things were in general, so I'm thinking he looked at my chart! (You don't think I'm bitter about the Rancho Cucamonga oncologist do you?).

The Surgeon: Saving the best for last, we saw Dr. Karam at 3pm (and yes, Chris goes to all of the appointments with me and sits through all of the exams; that's why he's my hero). My scar is healing nicely, and those little "cigarette burn" looking things from the radiation stickers are almost gone as well. Dr. Karam did notice a little radiation burn that I hadn't really noticed before, but it's not painful. And that was it.

Voila. I am no longer a cancer patient!! My follow-up is just that I get a check-up with Dr. Glaspy every 3 months for a year, then every 6 months for another two years afer that, and then once a year until I hit that magic 5 year mark. My type of (former) cancer has a much higher rate of recurrence in the first 3 years, so that's why the schedule is what it is. I also get mammograms every 6 months for a few years (probably 3). That sounds highly do-able to me. Oh, and, I'm already 6 months into my five years. They start counting from the time there is no cancer detected in the patient's body. For me, that was actually after the surgery on January 28th. (Yeah, that chemo and radiation stuff were just precautionary.) 6 months down, 54 to go!

Dr. Karam I will be seeing more of. But that's because he's agreed to help with our Inland Agency Breast Cancer Resource Center!! And yes, he does know how far the drive is (he's done it twice so far). He's just that nice of a guy.

So much to celebrate! You'll excuse me while I go continue the celebration, right? (I did mention we bought some fabulous cheese and wine....)


  1. Damn it. I'm crying again. I hate menopause. I am so glad that you made it through this part of the journey with your marvelous sense of humor intact; with your scary sense of do-gooderism reinvigorated; and, with even more friends than before. Mwah.

  2. Wow! This is just about the happiest blog to date! We are thrilled with the news that you are cancer FREE!!!
    Have a celebration glass for me will ya?

  3. Dr. Karam is a CUTIE!

  4. My first visit here, I am so happy for you and hope to be in that place my self eventually. Hope your cancer centre plans work out too.

  5. Teresa,
    that's wonderful that you have that group of supportive friends around you.

  6. Teresa... my comments are not in any order... YAY! Cancer is gone. Mmmmm - did you say cheese? You recruited Dr. Karam - amazing!!! Can't wait to hear what you picked up from the Revlon Breast Cancer Resource Center. Once again, Yay! - Rina

  7. FIN
    on to the memoir and everything else!

  8. my favorite blog to date! congrats!


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