Category Archives: Menopause

Cheryl’s Cancer Story: Moving Forward/Survivorship

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Thank you to my good friend Cheryl Morgan Maxey for this four-part series on her breast cancer, from diagnosis to the completion of her treatments. Cheryl amazed me with her upbeat attitude and courage. We hope her account will help others going through the same journey. Take it away, Cheryl!

Survivorship is a whole new world. You can call yourself a survivor the moment you are diagnosed, but it’s a difficult word to own. Those early days of diagnosis and treatment are a blur, and I am thankful for social media where I was able to publicly document my journey.

Somewhere around the time that I completed radiation, the local American Cancer Society “Relay for Life” events were going on, and I was invited to take part in a survivor dinner.  But I wasn’t ready to be a survivor yet. I was still entrenched in the treatments and what they were doing to my body. One of my oncologists told me that it was ok if I wasn’t ready to participate in a survivor walk yet… or even if I never wanted to. As a cancer patient, I had to make my own rules about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to define my survivorship.

And my counselor told me that as you get to the end of the treatment, you go through the grieving process. At the beginning there’s a rush for knowledge: diagnoses, treatment options, tests, therapy, surgery. Then it all ends and you’re left bewildered about what you just went though. Thought it all, I kept repeating “Keep Moving Forward.” Each cycle, each treatment, each portion of the plan completed was moving me onward. Each bike ride, each hike, each slow walk through the woods as I grappled with nausea. Forward.

I first claimed my survivorship that September. I still had 3 months of treatment to go, but I was in the home stretch. I had friends that had participated in a 3-Day walk in Hilton Head called the LocoMotion the year before. It looked fun, and I had joked about wanting to join them the following year. Then I found the lump.

After my diagnosis, I knew I had to join Emily and her family that year. She and her sister paid my registration, and we all met at Hilton Head that September. On Day 1, they called the survivors up to the front. I was overcome with emotion standing with my breast cancer sisters. We then moved to the start line and led the beginning of the walk. Moving forward.

The next month, I also participated in the Making Strides against Breast Cancer walk with my sister, my sisters-in law and a cousin. This time the survivors ended the walk going down a pink carpet, showered with applause.

In the spring, I participated in the Run Like a Diva series with James’ sisters and cousin, and we held hands as we crossed the finish line.

In September, I returned to Hilton-Head for the 3-Day, Island hopping Pledge the Pink event, rebranded from Locomotion. Our team had grown from the previous year, and we had such a great time celebrating both my and my new teammate Hope’s statuses as survivors.

The theme this year was Superheroes, and we put on our capes and gave cancer the ka-pow! We walked for each other….and for those who can’t or are no longer with us. During the walk, I thought about all the women that came to me after my diagnosis and hugged me, saying “You’ve got this!”

I still see someone from my team of oncologists every three months. I check into the clinic every month to have an injection to keep me in menopause, and I know I have another surgery in my future to lower that percentage of recurrence a little more by having my ovaries removed.

Prior to each appointment, I feel myself getting worked up; it is truly PTSD. I break out in tears when I receive good news about another clear mammogram.  You don’t “get over” cancer the way you do the flu or a cold. It’s part of you. You join a sisterhood.  And together, we keep moving forward.

Cheryl Morgan Maxey is a two year survivor of breast cancer. She lives in Hillsborough with her husband James a speculative fiction writer, and 2 cranky cats. She and James love to spend time exploring greenways and rail/trails on their bikes, tromping off trail in the woods, and adventuring in their kayaks. Throughout the year-long treatment for breast cancer, Cheryl remained active and continued to log miles by paddle, foot and bike.

Since James is a writer, he also chronicled Cheryl’s diagnosis, then her year of treatment, on his blog.  They used “Training for Cancer” as their way to announce her diagnosis on social media.  A year later, he penned “Climbing above Cancer” to wrap up Cheryl’s  year of treatment and her victory climb at Hanging Rock.

Cheryl’s Cancer Story: The Countdown

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Thank you to my good friend Cheryl Morgan Maxey for this four-part series on her breast cancer, from diagnosis to the completion of her treatments. Cheryl amazed me with her upbeat attitude and courage. We hope her account will help others going through the same journey. Take it away, Cheryl!

I was very open about my breast cancer diagnosis and my treatment. After telling my family and a handful of friends, my diagnosis was announced publicly by a blog post my husband wrote called “Training for Cancer.”

We both shared it on our Facebook pages and told the world about what we were about to face. I used my Facebook page as a way to document the process. At each treatment, I counted them with a photo and posted the photo as the treatment began. The first cycle was a breeze, and I had minimal side effects.

The second cycle hit me hard, and I quickly learned that out of state travel in a car the week after treatment was NOT a good idea.

As I continued to struggle with delayed nausea, my husband, James, was always reminding me that there was an end in sight. “You know you’re going to feel ok today and like crap by next Tuesday, then back to your current normal by the weekend. And then you only have 2 more times to feel like that, and it will be over.”

I should have taken a picture from my surgery, but I was able to document all my other milestones. Radiation therapy ended in June, and I still had 6 months of IV treatment to complete. Every three weeks I was able to cross another treatment off, and at the end of the year I was down to my last treatment.

 

During radiation therapy, I knew I had 20 treatments. After each one, I counted down….. 15, then 10, then single digits! I was so excited about my last treatment, I almost forgot to make a sign to hold.

I wanted some way to celebrate the end of treatment. Should I have a party? Should we just go out to dinner? James suggested we hike up to the top of a mountain and wave a victory flag. My last IV treatment was mid-December, almost exactly a year after I began treatment. I bought 2 yards of pink fabric, some ribbon, and we headed up to Hanging Rock the following Saturday. It was cold and misty, but I climbed those steps and over the rocks, and I cried. As we neared the top, a cloud bank moved in and snow flurries started to swirl about.

We nearly had the top of Hanging Rock to ourselves. I pulled out my victory flag, tied it to my walking stick, and stood atop one of the rocks, clinging to a nearby pine tree. The wind was gusty, and I was holding a 2-yard sail in my hands. I let go of the tree and reveled in the victory.

Cheryl Morgan Maxey is a two-year survivor of breast cancer. She lives in Hillsborough with her husband James a speculative fiction writer, and 2 cranky cats. She and James love to spend time exploring greenways and rail/trails on their bikes, tromping off trail in the woods, and adventuring in their kayaks. Throughout the year-long treatment for breast cancer, Cheryl remained active and continued to log miles by paddle, foot and bike.  Here are the kitties, Ali Cat and Greta.

Since James is a writer, he also chronicled Cheryl’s diagnosis, then her year of treatment, on his blog.  They used “Training for Cancer” as their way to announce her diagnosis on social media.  A year later, he penned “Climbing above Cancer” to wrap up Cheryl’s  year of treatment and her victory climb at Hanging Rock.

Cheryl’s Cancer Story: Hairy Situations

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Thank you to my good friend Cheryl Morgan Maxey for this four-part series on her breast cancer, from diagnosis to the completion of her treatments. Cheryl amazed me with her upbeat attitude and courage. We hope her account will help others going through the same journey. Take it away, Cheryl!

After diagnosis, things started happening very quickly – and yet slowly, all at the same time. You’re so ready get get moving with the treatment, but first there are tests, procedures, more tests, treatment plans, delays, and yet even more tests. About one week after my initial diagnosis, I had an all day appointment with my new team of physicians which included medical, surgical and a radiation oncologist. I was worked in for another ultrasound, then scheduled for a breast MRI, CT/PET scan, and the surgical placement of a port to make treatments easier.

A treatment plan was created, and we moved forward, only to come to a screeching halt on the day I was to start treatment.  My MRI had shown a 2nd suspicious area, and I had to delay the start of my treatment for a very long and agonizing week. Before I received the first drop of my chemotherapy regimen, I was scheduled for a MRI guided biopsy.  Fortunately, the area in question was clear, and I was able to move forward almost exactly a month from the time of my diagnosis.

In addition to my year long treatment plan of intravenous chemotherapy/immunotherapy regimen, I also had a lumpectomy and 4 weeks of radiation therapy. I was diagnosed at age 46, and slammed by the drugs into menopause the day I started receiving my treatment. Because my tumor was hormone positive, I still receive a monthly injection to keep me in artificial menopause until either I have my ovaries removed, or we are certain that I am past the point of natural estrogen production.

I had all the usual side effects from my treatments: terrible, uncontrolled and delayed nausea that would hit me hard about a week after my treatment; the loss of appetite and inability to eat the same thing each cycle; indescribable fatigue; and the usual hair loss. I knew it would all be temporary, but it all sucked.

My hair was past my shoulders, and I knew it needed to be cut before treatment started.

I had a friend that wanted to come with me for support, so she sat in the chair next to me while my hair was cut into a shorter style.

That weekend, I went wig shopping and selected a wig that mimicked my new short style and not my shoulder length hair that was now gone. I also picked out some turbans and scarves and learned how to style them. The cancer center boutique supplied me with another wig, some hats and additional scarves. I was set and ready to tackle this new hairless me that was coming… but now I had to wait for the drugs to kick in.

About 4 weeks after starting my treatment, my hair started falling out. It was subtle for me. I didn’t wake up with a clump of hair on my pillow, but I knew I was shedding.

The day we decided to buzz my hair off, I leaned over the counter and ruffled my hair and was amazed at everything that fell out. I knew it was time.

I sat on a chair in the bathroom while my husband used his clippers.

The next day, I donned a wig for the first time….and I hated it!!!! It looked fine, but I felt like it was constantly slipping around. I would pass the mirror at work and see it was slightly askew. I kept telling my co-workers, both male, that they HAD to tell me when my bangs were suddenly over by my ear!

A week later, I was attending a reception at the art museum with my husband. While chatting with someone, I could feel the wig inching up millimeter by millimeter. I tried to complete the conversation before the wig popped off and I scurried to the ladies’ room to readjust it. I knew the wig would be short-lived.

Within two weeks, I had put away the wigs and purely resorted to the other headwear I had amassed. I became most comfortable in hats and wore those more than anything else. Once the hair-loss causing chemotherapy portion of my treatment was over, the baby-fine hair started coming back… but then I lost my eyebrows and eyelashes!

By June, I rarely even wore my hats and instead, wore my mostly bald head proudly.

Cheryl Morgan Maxey is a two-year survivor of breast cancer. She lives in Hillsborough with her husband James a speculative fiction writer, and 2 cranky cats. She and James love to spend time exploring greenways and rail/trails on their bikes, tromping off trail in the woods, and adventuring in their kayaks. Throughout the year-long treatment for breast cancer, Cheryl remained active and continued to log miles by paddle, foot and bike. Here’s her hair four months post-treatment:

And one  year post-treatment:

Since James is a writer, he also chronicled Cheryl’s diagnosis, then her year of treatment, on his blog.  They used “Training for Cancer” as their way to announce her diagnosis on social media.  A year later, he penned “Climbing above Cancer” to wrap up Cheryl’s  year of treatment and her victory climb at Hanging Rock.

Cheryl’s Cancer Story: It Looks Suspicious

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Thank you to my good friend Cheryl Morgan Maxey for this four-part series on her breast cancer. Cheryl will chronicle her story from diagnosis to the completion of her treatments. She amazed me with her upbeat attitude and courage. We hope her account will help others going through the same journey. Take it away, Cheryl!

It looks suspicious. Not words you want to hear when getting an ultrasound on your breast. It was a Monday afternoon, the day after my father’s funeral. The last month had been a blur. My father’s Alzheimer’s, his brain tumor, hospitalization, hospice, his death, his funeral.

How long had the lump been there?

Life and death had consumed me for weeks, but that Friday night, there it was, the lump. Fresh from the shower, I looked down and saw it protruding from my right breast. How had I missed it? It couldn’t be cancer. Not now. It had to be a clogged gland, a cyst, anything but cancer. Anything but breast cancer.

I made an urgent appointment with my regular doctor that Monday morning. She referred me to mammography with an ultrasound. The ultrasound was performed two floors below the office where I went to work every day at the Cancer Center. It was a place I was used to entering to help move cancer research forward. It wasn’t a place I’d walked into before as a patient.

Two hours later I heard that word: suspicious. I saw it on the screen. They wanted to schedule a biopsy for the next day, but. I told her I had to have the biopsy then…THAT day. I shared about the last month of my dad’s decline, the last 2 weeks of hospice care, death, and the funeral just 24 hours before.

Schedules were tweaked and I was worked in for a needle biopsy that afternoon. I was ushered into another room with two chairs, a phone and a box of tissues. A nurse brought the consent form for the biopsy, and I even consented to have some tissue acquired for a clinical trial at the same time. I called my husband and told him what was on the ultrasound. It looked suspicious. The doctor that had performed the ultrasound held my hand while the attending physician completed the biopsy.

She kept me distracted from the procedure by talking about how long I had worked in Oncology clinical trials and which oncologists I knew. I was already planning to contact one of the doctors I’d worked with for years. Maybe it wasn’t malignant, but with the size of the lump, it would need to be removed. Maybe he could recommend a surgeon to me. The procedure was over fairly quickly, and I was sent home with petite ice blocks to tuck into my bra, a bottle of water, and a small box of tissues.

They assured me I would hear something soon. Thanksgiving was that week and they hoped to know if it was cancer before the holiday. Two days later, I received the call confirming what I knew in the pit of my stomach. Yes. It is cancer. Invasive ductal carcinoma. I had the diagnosis, now I needed to know the plan.

Cheryl Morgan Maxey is a two-year survivor of breast cancer. She lives in Hillsborough with her husband, James Maxey, a speculative fiction writer, and two cranky cats. She and James love to spend time exploring greenways and rail/trails on their bikes, tromping off trail in the woods, and adventuring in their kayaks. Throughout the year-long treatment for breast cancer, Cheryl remained active and continued to log miles by paddle, foot, and bike.

Since James is a writer, he also chronicled Cheryl’s diagnosis, then her year of treatment, on his blog.  They used “Training for Cancer” as their way to announce her diagnosis on social media.  A year later, he penned “Climbing above Cancer” to wrap up Cheryl’s  year of treatment and her victory climb at Hanging Rock.

Family Photos: The photo at the top of the post was taken in Murelles Inlet on the South Carolina Coast in July 2015. The photo of Cheryl and her mom, Brenda, and sister, Stephanie, was taken at their dad, Charlie’s, funeral on November 22, 2015.