Menopause

Cheryl’s Cancer Story: Hairy Situations

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.

Menopause

Cheryl’s Cancer Story: It Looks Suspicious

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.

 

Menopause

Tai Chi Brings Balance after Breast Cancer

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A post by writer Lisa Flinn:

In early January 2008, I felt like Alice plummeting down the rabbit’s hole into a new reality. I’d just received biopsy results confirming that the invasive ductal mass in my left breast was cancerous. 

Needled by worry, I’d seen my doctor three weeks earlier, and she had arranged for an immediate diagnostic mammogram.

Swiftly, appointments were scheduled for me at the University of North Carolina Comprehensive Cancer Center. There I met my team of specialists– Claire Dees, Keith Amos, and Jan Halle. Each person I encountered was gentle and plain spoken about my diagnosis and treatment plan. My emotions vacillated between hollowed-out fear and the flickering sense of new courage and openness. 

On that same day, I volunteered for several research studies. Less than 72 hours later, I readied my claustrophobic self for an MRI. Climbing on and turning face down on a sled-like contraption, I surprised myself by laughing. And still laughing, I wiggled my boobs into two openings, then rode the sled into the tube.

My laughter didn’t last too long. The imaging revealed suspicious atypical cells in the other breast. Pathology on those cells concluded the presence of lobular cancer. I was seized by numb shock. Might this additional finding indicate need for complete bilateral mastectomies?

I collapsed into my husband’s tender love and care.

When the hospital called me in for even more imaging, my surgeon, Dr. Keith Amos, met me in the waiting room as I arrived. He explained the MRI findings, addressed my concerns, and assured me that partial mastectomies on both breasts would be my best course of care. The surgery, six years ago on January 28th, with lymph node removal, went very well.

Our friends, family, and church encircled Bill and me with the warmth and light of a summer sun on those scary winter days. And as I recovered from surgery, then radiation, I began to crave something new and positive for my body. I chose five things. One of them was Tai Chi.

In July, I began Tai Chi classes with Nina Maier in Hillsborough, NC, and I was enthralled.

It took three years of practice to gain a rudimentary ability to move through the 108 positions of the Wu (Hao) form.

lisa-demonstrating-tai-chi

More importantly, NIna led me along an ancient path towards intention, balance, patience, strength, and a mental and physical readiness to act. In Nina’s ongoing class, she also teaches Shiba Luohan Gong for breath, flexibility and energy work.

It’s 2014, and I’m still loving the class!

The concentration needed to learn and improve is good for the mind. The practice is wonderful for the body. The mind and the body house and rouse the spirit. Tai Chi has been a true avenue to my healing and overall health. 

Lisa Flinn is a year-round organic gardener who delights her family and friends with home-canned creations.

As the author of twenty-two books for children, teens, and adults, she appreciates the contrast between her all-season outdoor labors and her fruitful diligence at the desk.

One Moon: Learn more about Lisa’s  instructor, Nina Maier, on her website.

Photo One: Gongs made  from oxygen and argon tanks by Lisa’s husband, welder Bill Flinn

Photo Two: Lisa strikes a pose called “Grasp Sparrow’s Tail.”

Photo Three: Lisa, who has been my writing partner for twenty-five years.

Lisa Flinn