Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and believe me when I say most women have no idea just how aware they need to be. I found a lump in my right breast the end of May, 2007.
Read the following article about some new Survey results just out!!

Breast Cancer 'knowledge' often includes more myth than fact:
by Judy Peres Chicago Tribune

On the eve of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a new survey suggests raising awareness of the disease is a misplaced priority.

The vast majority of women already consider themselves quite knowledgeable about the disease, which is expected to kill 40,000 women in the U.S. this year. But their "knowledge" often includes more myth than fact, the survey found.

"We're surrounded by pink ribbons and other messages about raising awareness," said Fran Visco, president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, which commissioned the survey. "But these popular efforts lull the public into a false sense that adequate progress is being made.

One "stunning' example, she said, is that people still believe heredity is the cause of the majority of breast cancer cases, although in reality only 5 percent to 10 percent of breast cancer is caused by genetic mutations that can be inherited.

The survey, which is being released today, the first day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, also found that 7 out of 10 women believe eating enough fruits and vegetables can help prevent breast cancer. In reality, there's no good evidence that is true.

Other Finding:

The majority of all women (and nearly two-thirds of those ages 18 to 24) believe breast cancer can be prevented. In reality, there are only a few things women can do to reduce (but not eliminate) the risk of developing the disease, such as not drinking alcohol and not taking hormones. The biggest risk factors are being female and getting older.

Nearly all women believe early detection of breast cancer is important for saving lives, and 4 out of 10 think self-exam is the best way to find the disease early -- the same proportion that think mammograms are the best way. But large clinical trials have shown that self-exams do not prevent death from breast cancer although they do lead to anxiety and unnecessary biopsies.

Even mammography screening, which has been shown to reduce the risk of dying of breast cancer, is less effective than most women think, Visco said. Mammograms can be inaccurate and come with unadvertised costs, including the risk of being diagnosed and treated for a tumor that would never have caused problems.

The National Breast Cancer Coalition's immediate priority, Visco said, is to make certain the public and political candidates are informed.

Because public policy is essentially a political issue, she said, the coalition has launched the Breast Cancer Caucus (, asking all presidential candidates to outline their plans for universal health care and their specific approaches to breast cancer research, prevention and care.

The coalition's agenda includes guaranteed access to quality health care for everyone, increased government funding for breast cancer research and enactment by Congress of the Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The End of "Red Devil" Cancer Chemo

Hi everyone, I have made it through my last "Big Red Devil" chemo treatment.

Sort of anyway. My white count has gone down to 300, which is the lowest I have had so far and my red counts have also gone very low. My doc was out of town so I saw her associate. I was given antibiotics to take and we passed on a shot for my red count since I had such a bad reaction to the last one (given in the hospital). I developed a rash, first little itchy splotches then lots of red bumps, on my arms, legs, chest, stomach and then my back. I was putting Calydryl lotion on all of it because it itched so bad I could not sleep. This went on for a week. I do not want to go through that again if we can avoid it. Because my counts have gone down so low I have no energy, shortness of breath if I move around very much, coughing, and my pulse goes up just going into the kitchen to fix a meal or to water the plants on my screened porch. I sometimes wonder just how much damage the chemo has done to my heart. I guess I will try to find out when I see my doctor next week.

The next chemo is Taxol. Taxol is suppose to be hard on the heart also and I wonder about the cumulative effect both will have on my heart. My Red and White Blood counts will be affected also. I thought I was pretty healthy in general, could loss a little weight and tone up some but had not had any major problems before finding the breast cancer. All the test (EKG, Mugga Scan, CT Scan, Stress Test, etc.) have not shown a problem but how much can the heart take. Sometimes it feels like it is going to beat out of my chest. I am not use to sitting and doing nothing. Just sitting here doing this blog entry I can feel my heart beating hard. My chemo nurse said that Taxol is a chemo drug that many people have allergic reactions to and they recommend giving the first treatment in the hospital so if there is a reaction you will get immediate attention. Sometimes I wonder if I will make it through all this, and sometimes I wonder if my husband will make it through.
He has been wonderful and has been doing his best to make me take care of myself. He is my hero!!! I would be lost without him.
I will let you know what happens next week. Keep checking back and let me know if you have any info that my readers would find helpful.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Fighting Breast Cancer, Chemo Treatments

Hi everyone, another month is almost over and I have been somewhat“under the weather”. The reactions I have been having to my Chemo treatments have been getting worse with each treatment. The Adriamycin (Big Mean Red) and Cytoxan have made my body reject my body. I have had 3 treatments so far with only 1 left. I hope I can make it through that last one.

My 2nd treatment caused blisters, mouth sores, dizziness, and my hair finally fell out the day before my 3rd treatment. I had a strange reaction to either the Chemo or the Neulasta. My neck/jaw swelled out like a grapefruit. It did not swell inside my throat, only on the outside. It felt as if my jaw joint locked up and right below my ear became terribly swollen. It started only on the right side. The swelling started going down after I took an antihistamine. After sleeping on the right side that night the swelling went to the left side but was not as pronounced. It was 2 days before the swelling completely went down. If anyone else has ever felt this please let me know because my oncologist has never heard of anything like it before. Since that time I have had less severe reactions like it about 4 times. Sometime my jaws just ache but I get no swelling.

My 3rd treatment was going fairly well until the 8th day after Chemo. I was standing in my kitchen (not doing anything strenuous) when I felt like someone stabbed me in the chest, kicked me in the back and pain ran up the right side of my neck. I have never experienced anything like that before and I will be honest and say it scared the heck out of both my husband and myself. Since it was after office hours, we went to the Emergency Room. If you are a Chemo patient and go to the ER, wear a mask and protect yourself as best you can because, as much as they may try, the ER staff can not protect you from being exposed to other sick people in the emergency room. After a EKG and blood test we were told that I had not had a heart attack. But they wanted to do a CT Scan to rule out a Pulmonary or Cardiac Embolism (blood clot). Now that really scared us. I had the CT Scan and thankfully it came out negative. At this point I was told I would be admitted for the evening so that they could do a stress test the next morning. (talk about being stressed). I have a mediport. I was told it was for the Chemo treatments and also that it would make for easier access drawing blood if I went in the hospital. Well, I might think it would be easier for them but in the future I might want them to take the blood out of my arm as every time they took it from the port they had to take 1 tube of waste to clear before taking the tubes they needed for the test and then another tube of waste after the blood for the test (which I did not really understand why they had to take one after they drew the blood). So after having had blood drawn 6 different times in a 12 hour period, I turned out to be anemic(low red count). Can't understand why! My oncologist ordered a shot to help bring up my red blood count and ordered more blood work. My white counts were just starting to come up, from 500 on Monday, 1100 Tuesday, to 2000 on Wendsday.

After I had my Stress Test on Wendsday morning , 8am, my admitting Dr. said I would be able to go home after the Cardiologist read it and the test was negative. So I waited and waited, with nurses telling me they had seen the Cardiologist in the hospital but sometime he does not read all his test until later in the day. So I waited and waited. Nurses telling me the test was in his box. So I waited and waited. If it was so important that I stay in the hospital over night to have this test, why had it not been read. Now I have no insurance and if this test was not an emergency, could it have been done on an outpatient basis. All day we have been asking about going home as I was told I would be and did not want to keep accumulating charges for just sitting and waiting. At 10:00pm the nurses said they guessed it would be the next day before the stress test would be read. Well, I guess it was not an emergency!! At this point, talk about getting STRESSED!!!, that was me. I was MAD!!! Finally at midnight a nurse came on duty that could tell something needed to be done to get me released. She got the Stress test read, it was negative and I was allowed to go home. They never did find out what caused the pain and symptoms I went to the ER for.
I slept for 6 hours straight and felt so much better when I woke up. Since then I have had hot flashes, rashes, my jaw hurting, and aches all over. Tomorrow I go to the oncologist to have my blood counts run and hopefully they will be high enough so that I can have my last “Big Mean Red” Chemo treatment on Wendsday and stay on schedule. I want to be done with “Big Mean

The Chemo nurse, Lisa, has been great and informs me that the next set of chemo treatments, 12 weekly treatments of Toxal, will not be as hard on my system as these first 4 treatments. It can affect my blood counts, heart, and my hair won't start growing back until I finish but this means I may get a little of my hair back by Christmas.
I have to keep looking to the positive when I can find it.
Please let me know if you have ever had or heard of a reaction like the swelling in the jaws or the chest/back/neck pain and feel free to comment.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Cancer Chemo Side Effects, Doctor Bills

Hi Everybody, a new entry to my Cancer Blog has been overdue. Sorry, I have been a little under the weather. My white blood counts came up to above 4,000 on Fri. July 27th which allowed me to stay on schedule with my Chemotherapy treatments. I went in on July 30th for another “Big Mean Red” treatment. It took a little longer to get my treatment this time, around 3 hours. I seem to be having more side effects this time. Some nausea (not a lot due to the 5 medications to prevent it), dizziness, heart palpitations, higher blood pressures, and my hair is coming out. Today, as we speak little pieces of hair are just floating off my head. My hair is about 2-3 inches long so it is easy to see. I did not think it would make much difference but I wish it would hurry and come out so I did not have to watch it come out little by little. I am worried about my white blood count dropping since I am already so tired. I go back on Monday to have my CBC check.

Now, my gripe of the week. Doctor bills, Doctor bills, Doctor bills. I do not understand how the doctors, hospitals, assorted doctors of who know what service, pharmaceutical companies expect a private pay person to come anywhere close to being able to cover some of the ridicules charges that get added to bills. $20.35 for a bottle of Chloresptic throat spray when on the bottle the price is listed as $2.85 with insurance and $1.84 without insurance. I arranged payment for the anesthesiologist for my surgery and now I get a bill for a CRNA Anesthesia Service that I knew nothing about. If he is a Nurse Assistant then why is he charging the same as the Doctor. How do you dispute these charges? You sign anything they want you to, because your life is at stake and in their hands. You are at their mercy or lack of mercy. Sometimes it feels so helpless and frustrating.

I hope you will check back as I update this blog with reports on My treatments, My prognosis, My feelings, Information I have learned (that hopefully can help others as well as myself), and anything else that comes "Popping" into my mind.

Any comments, information, or thoughts are welcomed.

P.S. Because we are some of the millions of Americans who could not get Health Insurance, we are asking anyone who may desire to do so to donate towards our ever increasing medical costs. Go to

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Hi Everybody.

Well, I promised to tell you about the “Little Mean Red Devil”chemotherapy. But first a couple things that happened the week before I started Chemo.
I had what they call Chemo training at my ocologist offfice. Chris (the chemo nurse) answered all my questions and gave me many tips to help make the treatment go easier. One was to go ahead and cut my hair (see photo above) as it will be coming out in clumps probably about the 10th day and it might make is less traumatic if I cut it now. We made it a positive event by cutting it really short, Military style. I have never had my hair this short before and Lordy, what a difference!!

I went back into surgery and had a dual mediport installed under the skin of my left shoulder/chest area. I feel every day that a new part has been added or taken away from my body. Sometimes it feels like it is just too much!! The pain was worse than I expected and I have had problems sleeping. Right side, Mastectomy, Left side, Port. OUCH!!! and I can't sleep on my back. I have little pillows everywhere trying to help. Well, to my chemotherapy treatment!

" Little Mean Red Devil"
It comes in these great big huge horse syringes (I got 2), and if I was a horse and saw them coming at me I'd run. However, I could not run from my first chemo treatment. It was a week ago yesterday, and the young lady who gave me the treatment first started off to giving me three different nausea medications to help me take the chemo easier. This was on top of the 3 nausea medications I had to purchase before starting my chemo. The nausea medications can actually make you a little nauseous in themselves. I sit in a recliner, IV hooked up to my Mediport as Lisa orders my chemo medications. The Chemo medications come up and she says it's called the "Little Red Devil", because it's a really nasty. She gives me a couple of information sheets on the drugs I will be receiving. The name of the drug is “ADRAMYCIN” and it kills cancer cells, which is what you want it to do but, it also kills good cells, one of the side effects. Some of the side effects are: decreased white blood cell count with increased risk of infection, decreased platelet count with increased risk of bleeding, hair loss, nausea, vomiting, sores in mouth or on lips, irregular heartbeat, heart damage, and darkening of the nail beds and skin creases of hands. I was also given the chemo drug Cycloposphamide last Monday and some of the side effects are: thinned or brittle hair, darkened or thickened skin, acne (now I never had an acne problem as a teenager and I really do not want one now), mouth blistering and fatigue, cough, congestion, fever,dizziness, chills, shortness of breath, sore throat, swelling of feet and ankles, nausea and vomiting, and rash. Sounds like lots of fun doesn't it. One of the nausea medications also gave me terrible hot flashes on my face, it felt like my face was on fire.

While undergoing chemo, your Blood Counts will be checked often. Low Blood Counts are VERY serious! White blood cells, red blood cells, you platelets and your doctor will be checking all of it now. You will be very susceptible to infections, especially 7 to 10 days after the drug is given. Yesterday was my seventh day. The average white blood cell count is between 4,500 to 10,500. They don't even consider giving chemotherapy if you're below 3,000. Well, my white blood count was 600. With the White Count of 600 you are very, very susceptible to any type of infection. Which would put me in the hospital!!

It's really upsetting when you walk out of the doctor's office and the nurse gives you a prescription to take to the hospital saying at you are a chemotherapy patient. It's almost as if they're expecting you to go to the hospital. Any type of infection, any type of fever, (anything over 100.4 is considered a serious fever when you're on chemotherapy), a sore throat, a scratch mark , a bug bite, anything at all can become a major problem. You have to keep your strength up, but you're tired. You're exhausted. I cough, just from a fan blowing across my face, and coughing irritates my throat, making it sore. I have to check my temperature four to five times a day just to make sure that I'm not getting an infection. The fear of getting sicker is almost paralyzing. They give you a little face mask to wear if you go out because if someone coughs on you, you could end up in the hospital. You aren't suppose to go out in the yard (bugs, scratches, etc). Your body is holding you prisoner. Forget fast food, you won't want to take a chance. I have gotten a horrible taste that does not want to go away. Skittles candy helps. You should not touch fruit or vegetables, have someone else clean and peel them for you.

Sometimes it seems the precautions the nurses and doctors give you seem so absurd. You are not helpless. You can sometimes actually can feel pretty good. But then I turn and look into my husband's eyes and see how helpless he feels, I have to realize that if I do something stupid, I am not hurting just me, He and I are in this together and I have to do my part and not take stupid chances.

Well, my head is tingling (which the nurse says is the hair folicals being disturbed by the chemo) and I am not suppose to rub or scratch it. So I think I will take a shower and just let the water beat down on it. I will write again soon.

If your mastectomy area gets tight, I suggest the ACS booklet : Exercises After Breast Surgery. These exercises have helped me a great deal with the tightness/pain from the surgery. Be sure to check with your Doctor before starting any exercises.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Under the Knife!!

Hi Everyone, Sorry it has taken so long for my next entry but I have been really busy.

To continue bringing you up to date, on June 14th I had a Mastectomy of my right breast. As a person that had been fairly healthy all her life and never had any type of major surgery before, the experience was daunting. I went into the same day surgery area at 8:00 am, got into my little gown (actually I am thankful that they had a big gown, as I am almost 6' tall and not a little girl), and waited. The nurses were wonderful as my husband and I were pretty nervous and scared about the whole thing. I was sent down to surgery about 10:00am and back to recovery by 11:45am. I was given morphine in the recovery room to help with the severe pain and it knocked me out for a while.

We had to wait for a room since the hospital was very crowded that day, and I got to my room about 5:00pm. I was surprised that it was not more painful (after that episode down in the recovery room), but I was not going to do a lot of moving to see how far I could push it! I really am not into pain! My poor husband slept on a little pull out chair bed in my room that night and I think he woke up in more pain than I did. I went home on the 15th at around 4pm. I was very pleased with the care I had gotten. I was surprised that I got to go home so soon because originally, I was told it would be a two to three day stay. However, I was glad to get home. My husband took wonderful care of me. I would be lost without him.

I would like to thank the young lady for the American Cancer Society "Reach to Recovery" program, Kay Camp, that came by to see me at the hospital. She was very helpful in answering all my husband's and my questions, bringing booklets that gave me further information on what would be going on from here. I found the information gave me answers and also questions to ask my doctors. I understand that all the "Reach for Recovery" women have been through breast cancer surgery so they know first hand what you are experiencing and you are free to ask them anything. Kay was wonderful.

On June 23rd I went back to the surgeon's office to have my surgery checked. He took out the drain. My comments on the drain are:
1. Be sure you are careful not to pull on the line. It is sutured into your skin and will hurt if you pull on it, OUCH!!!
2. The "Reach to Recovery" pack has a little sack that ties around your neck for hanging the drain at a comfortable height so you do not have to pin it to your clothes. This works pretty well but can make you neck tired.
3. Be sure to hang it low enough that you get good drainage. I was getting 75-100 cc for the first 4 days then it started tapering off to just 50 cc.
Dr. Smith took the drain out on this visit. When he pulled the tube that extended under the skin out it hurt quite a bit.(again OUCH!!!!!!!) He also took out about 2/3 of the staples. I think I was more scared of this than having the drain out because I could just imagine a big staple remover like I use in my office pinching the staples out. Fortunately, except for a little pinch on some of the staples all went well. I went home with 22 staples still in and a bandage over the tube hole.

The "Good News" that came from this office visit is the lymph nodes that were tested by pathology came back clear. They took out two lymph nodes at surgery (I forgot to mention the blue radioactive dye they shoot into your breast about an hour before surgery so they can find the sentinel nodes with a geiger counter. This also makes you pee green for a couple of days) and did a frozen test to let the surgeon know if all the nodes had to be taken out. Mine did not. This means I will be less likely to have Lymphedema (numbness in the arm, swelling, dry skin, fluid backup, problems with fingernails and more due to the circulation of the lymph fluids through the arm) problems in the future.

I AM determined to be upbeat about what we are going through. I WILL NOT let this beat me. I will fight it tooth and nail. I had an appointment with my Chemotherapy Doctor and will go into that in my next entry.

I want to thank my sister, Dedie, for coming to the hospital to sit with my husband, visit with me, and for coming to the house and visiting so he could take a nap and run errands. We have had a great time playing cards (canasta) and backgammon. We really appreciate her help during this time and always.

Please keep your well wishes coming and your prayers as they are greatly appreciated.

If you think you may have a lump and you are not sure what to do-GO TO YOUR DOCTOR IMMEDIATELY. Do not hesitate even a week as it often takes some time to get into the doctors office. If they give you a hard time about seeing you, Tell them it is an EMERGENCY, that you think you have found a lump and you need it checked now!! If you still can not get in to see the doctor within a reasonable time then it is time to find a new doctor!!!!

That's it for now! Next time I'll go into my experience with the “horrors” of the “red devil” and the rest of Chemotherapy.

I hope you will check back as I update this blog with reports on My treatments, My prognosis, My feelings, Information I have learned (that hopefully can help others as well as myself), and anything else that comes "Popping" into my mind.

Any comments, information, or thoughts are welcomed.

P.S. Because we are some of the millions of Americans who could not get Health Insurance, we are asking anyone who may desire to do so to donate towards our ever increasing medical costs. Go to

Monday, July 2, 2007

Ambushed by Breast Cancer !

by Leigh Ellis

The thought that I might get Breast Cancer was not something I thought would ever happen. None of the women in my family had ever had breast cancer and I felt I was fairly healthy. I am a little overweight and should exercise more. I take my vitamins and do my breast checks ( if not every month at least every couple months).

I was working in the yard around the end of April and trimming some holly bushes when a bee flew down my shirt and bra. I thought I had been stung. I have terrible reactions to bee stings so I went inside and took an antihistamine. The right breast started itching and swelled up a little. I put some benadryle gel on the spot. Over the next couple of days the swelling started going down but I had a little lump there. I sometime react to bee stings and bug bites this way so I did not think too much about it. But it did not go away. It did not hurt but it did itch occasionally.

Around the middle of May I had to find a doctor in the area in order to get a new prescription for thyroid medicine. (I may not have mentioned we were new to the area and did not have regular doctors yet). The doctor I saw asked if I would like a referral for a GYN. I said not yet, Thank you. When I got home it made me wonder about the lump in my breast and I told my husband about it. He suggested that maybe I should have it checked. I thought about it for a couple of days and we decided to go back to the doctors office to see what they thought.

Well, to say the least, May 23rd was the start of a new battle ahead that would turn our lives upside down. The doctor immediately arranged for a mammogram and for me to see a Surgeon for a Biopsy. The surgeon did a 3 Needle Biopsy on May 30th. We got the results of the biopsy on June 6th. I had Breast Cancer !

I am trying to bring you up to date with the effect this has had on my body, mind, spirit, and psyche. Also the effect this has had on my husband, family, friends, neighbors and everyone around me. Cancer is insidious and the very word is scary as Hell! It grows and affects every part of your life. We have fought it twice with my husband's Mother and Father and lost both times. This has thrown us for a loop to say the least!

I hope you will check back as I update this blog with reports on My treatments, My prognosis, My feelings, Information I have learned (that hopefully can help others as well as myself), and anything else that comes "Popping" into my mind.

Any comments, information, or thoughts are welcomed.

P.S. Because we are some of the millions of Americans who could not get Health Insurance, we are asking anyone who may desire to do so to donate towards our ever increasing medical costs. Go to