Silas is going bald!

You haven’t heard from me in a great while. My silence is good news because I’m doing very well. I’ve had little to report.

Nearly eighteen months have passed since my breast cancer diagnosis. My final chemotherapy treatment was on my 47th birthday (December 20, 2010). I completed radiation treatments almost exactly a year ago. I have hair again. And it’s brown again! 😉 Before and after my cancer diagnosis, I worked from home as a freelance writer. Since August 2011, I’ve worked with students at Wake Technical Community College in the Disability Support Services department. I have so much for which to be grateful.

Photo ©Darren Vanden Berg

Christmas 2011. ©Darren Vanden Berg

Cancer changes things forever. In my case, I believe things have changed for the better. … That may not be entirely true. A few challenges are still tripping me up, but I can definitely see blessings in many areas of my life. One benefit is the experiences my children had that I never in a million years would have chosen for them. They know the struggles cancer patients and their families face. They know the fear and pain. They also saw the kindness, goodness, generosity, and love of others, some mere aquaintences. They know God’s faithfulness first-hand.

Will he have as much fun when he's the one in the chair?

Armed with these personal experiences, Silas is taking action. He’s “Shaving the Way to Conquer Kids’ Cancer!” My Ringo-Starr-look-alike will have his head shaved on March 3 at Napper Tandy’s Irish Pub, joining more than 50 kids from his school and more than 220 other Raleigh-area participants.

Sponsor Silas at the St. Baldrick’s Foundation website  or by phone at 888-899-BALD. Please consider donating $5 or more to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation and help support pediatric oncology research. To see Silas’s fundraising progress and his “before” and “after” photos, visit his page on the St. Baldrick’s website.

St. Baldrick’s funds more in grants for childhood cancer research than any other organization except the U.S. government. Last year, the Foundation funded nearly $22 million in new grants – all because over 45,000 people shaved their heads. Visit StBaldricks.org for information about the organiztion’s responsible stewardship of your contribution.

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Party for a Cure!

I confess that I’m not really a show party kind of girl; although, I do like Pampered Chef products better than other show party options. If you’ve invited me to a Creative Memories, Usborne Books, or Mary Kay party, chances are, I didn’t come. But I’m hoping you’ll come to my Pampered Chef party anyway.

Jane Currin

Jane Currin

Only my friend Jane could persuade me, not only to attend a Pampered Chef  party, but to host a Pampered Chef party. The reason? I am so thankful to be at the end of my breast cancer journey. This unwelcome experience has given me a heart for cancer research and educating others about prevention. Twenty-five percent of the sales from the party will be donated to the American Cancer Society and used for breast cancer education and early detection programs. Since 2000, Pampered Chef consultants and customers have raised more than $10 million to Help Whip Cancer®!

I hope you’ll join us on Sunday as we celebrate, sample something tasty, enjoy new kitchen toys, and help raise funds for the American Cancer Society.
Help Whip Cancer!

May 22, 2011 at 2:00 p.m.
Church of the Holy Cross
2301 West Millbrook Rd.
Raleigh, NC 27612

 If you’re unable to join us, you can still help raise money for cancer research by shopping online! Visit www.pamperedchef.biz/janecurrin. Select “Shop Online” and enter “Carolyn Koning” as the host in option 1.

Click here for Jane’s special “pink” recipes!

Did you know?

  • That breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women, following skin cancer.
  • That the best protection against breast cancer is to detect it early through mammography and good breast health, and prompt treatment if diagnosed.
  • That less than 10 percent of breast cancers diagnosed occur in women with a family history of the disease.
  • That the estimated five-year survival rate for women diagnosed with breast cancer in its early stages is approximately 98 percent.

Click here to schedule your mammogram reminder.

Getting the port out today

October 4, 2010

Do you remember this?

The surgical placement of the subcutaneous port was anticipated to be a non-event. I was told I could drive myself to and from the hospital, that I’d feel just peachy following the procedure. It turned out to be one of the most miserable of days of the past eight months. My mother picked me up since, based on what I expected, I sent Paul on to work (in Durham, 45 minutes from Wake Med Cary). Later, my friend Laura and her five children and my two children and my mother had to drive back to Cary to fetch my car while I wallowed in my misery.

Subcutaneous port—April 12, 2011

I still vividly recall the local anesthesia wearing off, the subsequent pain, the unbearably hot temperature in the operating room due to an air conditioning malfunction, and my swollen and bruised arm. However, I’m ( naively?) optimistic as I head back to the OR today. I’m excited about the port being removed. While it was certainly a blessing during chemotherapy and it never actually hurt, the port is uncomfortable and ugly. I’m looking forward to its absence.

Hair progress

Maintenance Mode

Boniva? Really? Isn’t Sally Field something like 95 years old? Why am I taking Boniva?

I took my first dose this morning. You have to sit upright for 60 minutes afterwards. You can’t eat anything before or for 60 minutes after the dose other than eight ounces of “plain” water (not to be confused with “complex” or “extraordinary” water, I suppose). My oncologist prescribed Boniva because compromised bone density is one of the side effects of the hormone inhibitor I’m taking. Meanwhile, here I sit, upright, longing for coffee and a bowl of cereal.

It’s been over a month since my last post. I hope you haven’t worried terribly about my third degree burns. I finally called the radiologist, and the nurse gave me some fancy cream that solved my problem within a week.

Carolyn & Joan

The reason behind my apparent silence is good news; life has seemed nearly normal. I’ve been especially thankful for recent writing and editing work which has kept me busy. I cover Lily’s soccer carpool on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I’ve joined Silas as a member of our church’s  Handbell Choir. Add doctor, dental, and orthodontist appointments; church small group; tennis and trumpet lessons; soccer games; Bible study; and tutoring; and our schedule suddenly looks like everyone else’s again.

I’ve had all sorts of follow-up appointments lately. A post-therapy mammogram was clear and established a new baseline. Blood work produced optimistic results. My oncologist explained that my “counts” and “markers” were all good. A bone density test revealed I have “osteopenia,” a precursor to osteoporosis, and consequently, need the Boniva prescription. I’m also taking Arimidex, an estrogen/hormone inhibitor. (I told a few folks I was taking Tamoxifen. I was confused. No Tamoxifen.) My breast cancer was hormone-receptor-positive, so the Arimidex helps decrease my chances of recurrence.

Arimidex side effects

Post radiation surprise from Kate

  • weakness (ugh!)
  • fatigue (ugh!)
  • headache (ugh!)
  • mood swings (as if I don’t have enough problems with moods already)
  • depression (oh good grief!)
  • nausea
  • mild diarrhea
  • increased or decreased appetite (can I choose?!)
  • sweating
  • hot flashes

    Carolyn, Melissa, Ann & Donna

  • temporary hair thinning (not again!)
  • joint pain
  • bone pain and weakness
  • lower bone density

Boniva side effects

  • esophagus problems
  • low calcium levels in the blood (I thought this stupid stuff was supposed to increase my calcium levels!)
  • bone, joint or muscle pain
  • severe jaw bone problems

    Alicia, Annie Grace, Becky, Carolyn, Mary & Janet

  • unusual thigh bone fractures (Again, I thought Boniva is supposed to prevent fractures!)
  • muscle spasms, twitches, or cramps
  • finger or toe numbness or tingling (More?! I’ve been numb and tingling for six months!)
  • back pain
  • heartburn
  • abdominal pain

    Carolyn, Kate, Cathy & Hope

  • arm and leg pain
  • diarrhea
  • headache (ugh!)
  • muscle pain (ugh!)
  • flu-like symptoms

On a brighter note, I’ve been celebrating the end of cancer. My church family and a few of my dear friends hosted parties to say farewell to my breast cancer. Good riddance!

My fried boob

I was a radiation rock star. After 16 of 19 treatments, my skin looked tan. No itching. No burning. No noticeable fatigue. I naively thought I was escaping the negative side-effects of radiation.

The last three treatments were “boost” doses. For women with early-stage breast cancer, treated with breast-conserving lumpectomy and radiation, for women like me, an additional “boost” dose of radiation to the original tumor site has been found to reduce the risk of cancer returning in the same breast.

My final treatment was last Wednesday. No changes on Thursday. Everything was still fine on Friday. However, by Saturday, it looked like I had ironed my chest. When I was a high school senior, after a brainless episode involving baby oil, a bikini, Atlantic Beach, and more than 20 hours in the sun,  I had the worst case of sunburn anyone has ever experienced. My current condition tops even the disastrous incident of 1982.

I am truly miserable. I can’t even wear a bra, and unlike some women, I hate not wearing a bra. I’m hardly a rock star. More like a feminist lobster.

18 down, 1 to go

Tomorrow, February 16, 2011, is my final radiation treatment! Hurray!

It almost feels surreal that the end is here. I praise God for the conclusion of cancer treatments. I’m looking forward to pursuing some semblance of a normal routine. Unfortunately, even in times of good health and relative calm, “normal” has always eluded me. Perhaps this fresh start will give me an advantage.

Thank you for your encouragement  over the past six months. I never could have faced this journey without your prayers, words of inspiration and hope, and practical help.

The Radiation Experience

14 down. Five to go.

I go for radiation Monday through Friday, usually at 1:00 p.m. One of the radiation therapists calls me from the waiting room and walks me down the hall, through their control room, and into the therapy room. My name is on one of those binders above the computers and other equipment. The therapists, physicians, and nurses meticulously record all procedures, observations, test results, and details related to each patient’s treatment.

Radiation therapists Jerri & Tim

As I head into the treatment room, I pass through this vault-like door. Once the machine’s settings are correct and I’m in position on the treatment table, the therapists return to their control room and lock this door between them and the radiation (and me).

I change into a hospital gown behind the screen on the far side of the room.

The radiation machine

As I lie on the table on my back, one of the therapists positions the blue foam thing under my knees. The other therapist makes sure my head is turned slightly to the right. I hold the two vertical white bars to keep my arms in position over my head. A therapist maneuvers my body so I’m slightly on my right side. She marks my skin with a marker, emphasizing my little freckle tattoos to ensure that the radiation beam goes precisely to the right location.

My view once I'm in position: The collimator (I think)

Once every detail is perfect, the therapists leave me alone as they return to the control room, locking the vault door behind them. The enormous machine buzzes as it rotates around me. I can’t feel anything at all; it’s like getting an x-ray. I just lie perfectly still (Well, you know, as “perfectly still” as I get). The actual treatment process barely takes five minutes. The therapists return and lower the table. I dress and drive the 30 minutes back to North Raleigh.

Carolyn & the radiation machine

Sylvia is my friend from church who was diagnosed with breast cancer just a few weeks after I was. She’s undergoing a similar course of radiation as I am, but her regular appointments are at 10:00 a.m., so I don’t usually get to see her. I needed to go early today, so it was a happy blessing to run into her at the radiology office.

Carolyn & Sylvia

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