Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I Glow in the Dark!

One look at the massive machine that will deliver my daily radiation treatments is terrifying. A  room with one huge technologically advanced machine designed to destroy cancer cells. All is can say is, “Oy!”
Preparation for my treatment is equally scary. I met up with two radiation techs who will prepare me for my future treatments. Both are very nice -- polite and professional. Their job is to create a mold that will be used every time I visit the “machine.” I must always be in the same, precise spot for this to work. So, precision is essential. They move me onto the table and begin taking measurements. My right breast is the focal point and they begin “drawing” on it with markers. I must admit, this part seemed rather “funny” to me and I did start laughing. Realizing how I felt, the also began laughing along with me. It lightened the mood, which otherwise was (as noted before) very professional. (I have to admit, no one has ever drawn on my breast before. So, yes, this was both unique and weird!) 
At some point in this long, lasting procedure I finally saw Dr. Daniel Buchholz, M.D., a radiation oncologist at MD Anderson. (Look up Division of Radiation Oncology at
His job, to ensure that my markings are precise and that each and every time I have a treatment, the same location will be radiated. It is a series of calculations -- we’re talking high level math (not my speciality). I listen to the discussion but I am lost. I don’t really understand everything happening, even though I did read and re-read the material given to me. (Yes, I’m one of those individuals who reads through all the medical data handed to me -- whether I fully comprehend it or not.)I’m moved ever so slightly in a new direction. The doctor checks and re-checks the position. More marks are made to my breast.  I have magic marker all over my right breast at this point. Numbers, lines, whatever. I can’t really see what’s going on and won’t truly see the “masterpiece that’s been created until later. 
Then, without must fanfare, Dr. Buchholz seems to exit and now I’m left with the two techs. They begin to make preps for the next step. One, that I apparently did not read about -- or that I chose to ignore. They are now ready to tattoo me. Just hearing the words “tatoo” freaks me out. I actually attempted to break lose from the straps holding me down, but they were strong. I began screaming, “NO! You can’t tattoo me!!” I was insane with confusion and fear. One of the techs, realizing how terrified I was, stopped for a moment and began to roll up the sleeve of her lab coat. She showed me this tiny, dark blue (almost navy-colored) mark on her forearm. It resembled a freckle except for the color. She quietly explained that they had to do this. It was an absolute necessity. Two tiny (permanent) marks needed to be made so that the procedure could be done accurately every time. These were the guide marks -- the two blue dots would serve as the guidelines for setting me up for treatment. Since precision was a necessity, the tattoos were not optional. The other X’s and lines (being made by the markers) would continue to be done on a daily basis. I was asked to try not to scrub my breast area too much while washing -- however, they would make these markings on me each time I visited. But, the blue dots -- they had to be there. Every decision made by Dr. Buchholtz was done to ensure that my actual radiation dose and the exact location for delivery were the same every single time, without any room for errors. This was all calculated beyond anything my brain could understand. 
I finally settled down, and then I felt the pricks. Both techs did the tattoos at the same time. I recall a quick sharp pain and then, it was over. I was still upset and quite honestly, it would take time for me to both get over my fear as well as my feelings about what had happened. When I did arrive home, I tried to find the tiny tattoos. However, with all the other X’s and marks they had made, I could not even find the little blue dots. 
I would not see them until months later -- long after my radiation treatments were over. And by that time, I considered my “tatoos” to be a badge of honor -- a sign that I was a survivor.  

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Diagnosis Cancer: An Unexpected Life Journey

No one wakes up hoping that today will be the day they hear “You have cancer!”  It happens. It’s all part of the journey we call life. And, cancer itself is a journey. It is up to you to determine just how you will handle the journey. Will you be someone who immediately hears “You’re dying!” Or will you step up and realize that even with a “life sentence” of cancer, you can still live a long and healthy life.
I heard the words “You have cancer” on December 4, 2000. Breast cancer, stage one and fully contained. That was the initial diagnosis. I had a lumpectomy followed a month later by sentinel node surgery. At that time, they removed six lymph nodes, all of which were biopsied and determined to be benign. So, although I now had joined the ranks of cancer survivors, my immediate prognosis was excellent. 
My medical oncologist, Dr. Nikita Shah, M.D., is on staff at MD Anderson Cancer Center Orlando. For information about either Dr. Shah or Dr. Kahky, go to: She is a renowned expert on breast cancer and even at my first session with her, I felt at ease. Dr. Shah is a petite woman but despite her physical statute, she is larger than life when it comes to her expertise in oncology/hematology.  We spoke at great lengths about my options following the lumpectomy and sentinel node surgery, both of which were done by Dr. Michael Kahky, M.D., a highly respected oncology surgeon. Since my tumors (one benign and the other malignant) were both found when relatively small, and my lymph nodes were all benign, I now had several alternatives as I looked towards future treatment. I went home with volumes of reading material. I’m talking about a huge assortment of papers all dealing with chemotherapy.  Needless to say, I was already overwhelmed.
My choices were... go with chemotherapy and then when that course of treatment was completed, start on Tamoxifen, an oral anti-estrogen drug while also doing radiation treatments or go with radiation treatments while also taking Tamoxifen. The first, of course, not only meant going with months of chemo and all the side effects that would come along with it, but then, I would still have to begin taking medication afterwards plus deal with radiation treatments down the road. So many things to consider including all the side effects from chemo as well as radiation. It was daunting. The second option meant going right into radiation treatments and taking the Tamoxifen. I would not have to have the chemo if I went with option number two. So, what was the best choice for me?
I spoke with Dr. Shah and Ellen Borowicz, RN, the oncology nurse. We talked for what seemed like hours, reviewing all my alternatives. We discussed the pros and cons of each choice, although it really did not help me make my choice. Again, it was completely overwhelming to think that this decision was life changing. I also spoke with my husband, Edward Feldman and our two children, Brian and Adrienne. Phone discussions were held with my mom, Henrietta Wattman (a survivor of both breast and thyroid cancers) as well as my brothers, Gary and Michael Wattman, my mother-in-law, Leah Feldman, and numerous friends and family members. I read through the material, trying to fully comprehend all the information before me. Fortunately, I had a fairly good background for understanding medical material. I had worked for years in hospital public relations and for health care non-profits including the American Cancer Society. Being able to digest and breakdown medical information was not beyond my ability, but now, considering this was my life, it was a bit more difficult than anticipated. While I read and attempted to understand my choices, the time clock was running out. I needed to make my decision so that we could begin whatever treatment I selected. It was by far one of the most difficult decision I have ever had to make in my life. Ultimately, even with everyone’s loving advice and even perhaps wisdom, I still had to make that decision myself. It was “all about me” and it was my life on the line. If you have never understood true fear, this was my moment to face it -- and to deal with it. 
I finally made the decision. I would undergo radiation treatments concurrently while taking Tamoxifen. I factored in all the reasons, both pro and con, for both choices. I also looked at the percentages, which one offered me the greatest benefits. In other words, which one would be the best option... the one that would keep the cancer from returning. Quite frankly, the percentages were identical. No matter which choice I went with, there was an extremely small chance of the cancer returning. So, when all was considered, I went with the option least likely to cause the greatest number of side effects. Chemo was obviously going to radically affect my life for months and years to come. While with radiation only, I would not have to deal with the side affects of chemo. There would be less affect overall on my life and my ability to live a quality life at the time. So, my decision was made. Preparation was underway for me to start radiation treatments. A whole new experience was about to begin. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I'm Blogging!

Welcome to my first blog post. As a cancer survivor I truly believe in the idea that as individuals we can do anything we set out to accomplish. Just getting this site up and running was an exercise in patience along with a lot of laughter.

I'm not a computer geek and I'm definitely not computer savvy. I can do basic email and I actually have a Facebook page, although getting that up and running was a challenge for me, too. I am eternally grateful to my talented friend, Thomas Thorspecken. (Check out his site  "He spent hours with me (at a local Panera Bread) just trying to get me onto Blogspot.com. For some reason, my mind went blank when he asked for my yahoo password. For over an hour, we tried everything to jog my memory. Finally, it was easier to select a new password and get things moving along. Anyway, he was patient. Plus, we shared lots of laughs as I tried to come up with the right password ... despite an extreme case of chemobrain. Thor has an award-winning blog, so imagine my surprise when he agreed to help me set up my basic site. Again, words alone cannot express my thanks to him.

It will take me awhile to get things moving smoothly. So, if there are any glitches, I ask for your understanding. Being able to write again is a gift I do not take for granted. As you will discover, I went through some very dark years as my cancer journey progressed. And, my journey continues since I am a metastatic breast cancer survivor. I still go every three weeks for life saving treatments. When I say that everyday is a gift -- I mean it. My personal statement is: "Everyday in every way I am getting better and stronger." I live by those words. I hope they inspire you to live everyday to its fullest.