Category Archives: Tnbc

Fall Family Photos


In the weeks leading up to my first chemo treatment, I had a long list of things to do.  Mostly LOTS of appointments, but also normal “mom” things.  There are so many school events at the beginning of the year, coupled with a visit from family, Halloween costumes to be made, and a hurricane made for a busy few weeks.  Sally and I had talked about family photos, but they just didn’t get taken.  I was delighted that I was feeling ok after my first treatment and so we decided to meet up at the train station in Old Town for some quick shots.  We probably weren’t there for more than twenty or thirty minutes, but she was able to capture some of the most beautiful images.  I don’t really know much of what to expect of the next few months, but I do know that I will cherish these images of my family—I’m sure the time will come when I can hardly imagine having all this hair!









Many thanks to my dear, talented friend Sally for these images.  They are truly special to me.

Sally Brewer Photography


On Borrowed Time

I’ve had my first round of chemo. I’m going on the assumption that I will eventually feel crummy, that’s what chemo does, after all. But apparently these steroids they’re giving me are super awesome, so I don’t feel bad. In fact, the port doesn’t hurt at all, and my wrist, which has been bugging me since the end of summer, feels great! I did take a nap today, but this evening I have been uber-productive.

The thing is, part of the productivity is born of the knowledge that I may feel good now, but the tired days are on their way. I’m eager to see how I’ll feel tomorrow. Next round, the Sunday after chemo I’m supposed to run in the Girls on the Run 5k with Emma Clare. If I can’t run it, Clay can, or a neighbor and her daughter offered to let Emma Clare run with them. But Emma Clare and I had been planning on running this together, and so I’m going to do my best. She said it’s ok if we have to walk part of it. So I think I’ll head to bed so I can get some rest to see if I can bang out a practice 5k in the morning. But before I head to bed, I’m taking one of those fabulous anti-nausea meds so that I can sleep through the steroid energy blast!


The Good Kind of Negative

Usually the word “negative” carries a, well, negative connotation. But not so much in the medical field. This week, I got two good negative reports. The genetic analysis came back negative, meaning that I do not carry any of the mutations greatly increasing my (and Emma Clare’s) risk for breast and ovarian cancer. So it looks like I’ll get to hold onto my ovaries after all. And the biopsy of my axilla (such a great word, so much more genteel than armpit!) also came back negative– no cancer found there. They’ll still have to test at least one lymph node in surgery to make sure that the cancer hasn’t traveled out of the breast, but for now, this is good news. I felt pretty sure these tests would both be negative, but somehow it felt nice to hear my sweet surgeon giving me good news for once!

Day 2 post chemo went pretty well. I’m a little flushed from the steroids, I just look like I spent too much time in the (nonexistent) sun. But I had good energy and a normal appetite, so that was nice. Since I felt fine, I didn’t take any anti-nausea meds, and that might have been a mistake. We’ll call it a learning experience, since on top of fighting nausea they knock you out. I didn’t sleep well (the steroids keep me awake) but I’m taking advantage of the alone early morning time to catch up on a few things while I do have the energy. And I’m already looking forward to my afternoon nap!


Chemo #1

Just wanted to pop in to let everyone know that the treatment went pretty well today. It didn’t hurt, and I felt fine afterward. People might think we’re crazy, but Sally snapped a few photos of the day just to document it.


Before we got started, I had a few moments to relax and model my super comfy new chemo outfit.  I think it’ll get worn more than every other Thursday!


I still don’t love the port, but am getting used to it, and it sure made the chemo easy.  They basically just plug me in and it’s done and I can have both hands and arms free.

chemo round 1

I know I said it before, but I literally couldn’t look up the website for a wig shop another lady mentioned without getting a text from someone wishing me well.  You all overwhelmed me with your love and kindness!


After heading home, I met Sally at a wig shop with much better customer service than the first one I visited. They had the same style of wig I’d liked before (and I still preferred that one) and we found another wig that was a great color. It’s pretty much what I envision my hair would look like if I spent a fortune and had it glossed and highlighted. So I placed the order, and it will be here in a week or two. (As an aside, I was surprised that my insurance covers almost all of the cost of the wig with my “cranial prosthesis” prescription.)

I did start feeling a little crummy later in the afternoon, but took some meds so now I feel better, though am getting a bit sleepy. I wonder how long until I can tell the chemo related sleepy from general mom sleepiness?

I should also say that I continue to be overwhelmed by the goodness of my friends. I got countless texts, emails, and FB messages today from people who, even with their own very busy lives, managed to remember my crazy schedule and send me their love and prayers. We had a yummy dinner and a lots of desserts. Magazines, books, and lots of other great little ideas to pass the time are so thoughtful. I appreciate each and every one of them, and each and every one of you!


Waiting for Morning

First, I need to say that we survived our visitor, Sandy, very well. We kept power the entire time. The Federal Government and all local schools were closed Monday and Tuesday, so Clay and the kids have been home, but Clay and I were pretty productive and the kids were great. They played Wii, Legos, made a fort, built a marble city, and have been playing all sorts of imaginative games. They let us nap, and they even helped clean up their rooms and play areas. I’m eager for them to head back to school (though I think they screamed with more enthusiasm than I did at the news) but I can’t really complain about how the past few days have gone.

Especially with the storm slowing life down, this week has gone slowly, like a long sleepless night when I look eagerly at the clock, just hoping it is morning. Not that morning is all that great, I know I’ll be tired from a lack of sleep, but at least the waiting for morning to come is over. And so this week I wait for chemo. Not that I’m looking forward to it, I’m just ready to be finished with the waiting.

Part of what makes waiting hard is the unexpected. I went to the chemo class last week, so have a little better handle on what is coming my way. And I’m very thankful for the development of drugs that will help combat some of the side effects of the chemo. Most are familiar with nausea as a side effect, but I will be given anti-nausea medication with the chemo infusion and they’ve given me two additional anti-nausea meds that I’ll have at home to take if I need them, so the discomfort should be minimal. My immune system will also become severely compromised, but about 24 hours after each chemo treatment, I’ll get a shot of Neulasta which will help regrow those important immune cells in my bone marrow. Some people experience significant bone and joint pain as a result of this drug, but they have assured me that I will be able to manage the pain with ibuprofen, and want to be sure that I’m not in any more pain than necessary.

Unfortunately, not all side effects can be mitigated with additional drugs. Fatigue, for one. I will be tired, but there’s no real way to tell how much. Thankfully, my most tired days are likely to be during the week, so I should be able to nap while the kids are at school. Peripheral neuropathy is another. That’s a fancy way to say that my fingers and toes may get tingly. Hopefully just tingly, but my oncologist said it may become more severe, and if it becomes hard for me to hold things we may adjust my chemotherapy dosage.

Of course, the most well known of the side effects is hair loss. My hair will fall out. There doesn’t seem to be any question about that. It will likely happen within two to three weeks after the first treatment. So by mid- to late-November, I’ll be sporting a scarf or my fancy new (though not yet ordered– better get on that one!) wig. I know it’s inevitable, but I figure there’s no need to rush it. So as soon as it starts falling out, I’m headed to Georgetown to have Dragan give me my last haircut for a while. I’ll have him put it in a ponytail and braid it first, since it’s gotten so long, I can donate it to Locks of Love. Then I’ll have him shave off the rest, there’s no sense spending weeks picking up stray hairs– and clumps of hair– while I wait for it to all fall out. I’ve been following the blog lilblueboo for years and was captivated to watch Ashley go through her own battle with cancer last year about this time. I had the kids watch the video her friend made when she shaved her head, and while they were a little wary about the whole thing, they loved the ending. I’ve promised them a new box of washable markers, and they’ve promised no sharpies on the noggin.

The kids are all ready and super excited for Halloween tomorrow.  And I’m glad for a day that will be busy and full of activity.  Hopefully, it will leave me with a little less time to check the clock, waiting for morning.


Visitors, visitors

We’re just wrapping up a fun weekend at the Holloway house. Thursday while I was in the hospital being tortured (OK, it wasn’t that bad), my parents were on the road and my brother was in the air on the way to Arlington. They’ve all been dying to come and visit and this weekend seemed like a good time. I figured it would be the calm before the storm (pun intended!) and would be a good time to do something fun or run some errands. But it turns out that getting the port put in was a much bigger deal than I’d anticipated. It’s actually minor surgery, I was sedated and was lucky that Patrick got into town early and could come and pick me up. And I was thrilled to have the whole crew here to do the driving so that I could enjoy the benefits of my Percocet. The kids had a blast with all the family in town– lots of people to play with.

Uncle Patrick was supposed to leave tomorrow afternoon, but it turns out we have another visitor coming and it seemed like he might do better to leave early. As his wife, Kelly, is 38 weeks pregnant, no one wanted him getting stuck here with a closed airport due to our visitor, Sandy. We don’t get hurricanes here very often, but it looks like this one might be a big deal. At least, that’s what the news media would have us believe.

I was a little bummed because I have a few last errands to run before chemo, and it’s no fun to run errands in the rain. But I figured if ever there were a time to power through, it’s the week before chemo. But now it turns out that our next visitor is throwing quite a curve into my plans. The kids are already off school for tomorrow, and Tuesday is supposed to be the “big” day. I’m betting that they’ll be off school Tuesday too. For their sake, I sure hope there’s school on Wednesday, I know they’ll want to have their fun halloween parties and parade. And I’m betting it will be no fun to trick or treat in a hurricane!

On more cancer related news, at least I don’t have any appointments scheduled the first part of this week. This biopsy went much easier than the last. The radiologist couldn’t find any abnormal lymph nodes, so she biopsied the area but doesn’t expect any abnormal findings. As I said, the port was a bigger procedure than I’d thought, and I was super sore Thursday and Friday. It’s definitely gotten better, but it’s still pretty tender. All the doctors and nurses reassured me that after a week or so, I won’t even notice that it’s there, and I’ll love it since it means I won’t need an IV at all. Of course, I feel like Frankenstein because you can see it under the skin– just under my collarbone– and I think it looks pretty freaky.

I’m really hoping we don’t lose power with this storm, for lots of reasons. But I’m so thankful that the worst of the storm is supposed to be early in the week. Surely even if there are widespread power losses, my chemo on Thursday won’t be delayed. And so I’ll do my best to enjoy the found time with my family and not focus on the unimportant errands I’m not running.


T Minus Ten…

T minus ten days. Ten days until chemo starts. A friend at church this weekend asked me if I was nesting just like moms about to give birth. Maybe. I did make a pretty big trip to BJs today, and I spent a lot of time this weekend making sure Emma Clare no longer qualifies to be on an episode of “Hoarders.” But really, getting ready for chemo isn’t nearly as fun as preparing to welcome a new baby.

Today I went to a wig store. I was thoroughly convinced that I did not want a wig. I only caved and agreed to look (with a not so good attitude) after deciding that it might be easier for the kids, especially at school functions, if I had hair. I had prepared myself for a completely frustrating and depressing outing, but was pleasantly surprised. I managed to find one that I don’t hate, in fact it looks very much like my hair. On a good hair day! I might be able to get used to good hair without all the styling! So that’s one thing off my list.  (This is NOT the wig I liked.  But I thought it was a close contender.  And that’s why it’s good to take a photographer wig shopping.  No way does that look like me!)

unfortunate wig

Wednesday I’ll go to chemo class. Sounds super fun, doesn’t it? But it will be good I’m sure, and it will hopefully give me a pretty good idea of what to expect once chemo starts. Then Thursday will be (I hope!) my last trip to the hospital before chemo. I’ll have one last biospy, this time of a lymph node, and they’ll put in the port that will be used to administer chemo.

I also stocked up on Purell and Lysol wipes on my trip to BJs today. I’m going to have to channel my germophobe friends (you know who you are!) in the coming months. Clay and I have already gotten our flu shots, but the kids will be getting them in the morning. Turner already pointed out that the doctor told him he wouldn’t need anymore shots until he was 11. That boy forgets nothing!

The best part of getting ready didn’t occur to me until today. One of the side effects of chemo is a change in taste. So I only have ten days to eat as many of my favorite things as possible just in case I don’t enjoy them anymore after chemo! I’d better get busy!


Finally a Timeline…

We met this afternoon with the oncologist. She was very kind and I think it will be a pleasure to get to know her in the coming months and years. We were relieved to hear that the PET scan that I did yesterday showed no evidence of cancer beyond the original tumor. I will have one more biopsy this week, of a lymph node, to help her properly stage the disease. At this point, though, she thinks that it is a stage II, which is good news. While the cells of the tumor are quite nasty, she assured me that young women with this tumor type who are aggressively treated typically do very well. So I’ll spend this coming week in a few remaining procedures and appointments in preparation for chemo.

I can’t imagine anyone looking forward to chemotherapy. Yet finally having a timeline for treatment, having even a vague idea of what to expect is such a relief. Chemo will begin November 1. Every other Thursday until early February I’ll be receiving a chemo treatment. I’ll just have to do one infusion every other week, but can expect each infusion to really wipe me out for roughly a week in the middle of each cycle. My hair will fall out, though she says many women don’t lose their eyebrows or lashes. But if my lashes do fall out, I’m ready. Sally and I just happened to decide a month or so ago that we needed to learn how to put on false eyelashes, and there is a pair ready and waiting in my makeup drawer. So take that, chemo!

I’ll be doing chemo before surgery. While there are no data indicating better survivorship based on whether chemo is administered before or after surgery, there are several reasons to consider doing it first. Chemo is a systemic treatment– it treats the whole body. If there’s no chance that a cancer cell has gotten out of the tumor, a patient wouldn’t likely receive chemo. So on the chance that even one tumor cell has gotten out of the breast, I’d rather not give it a chance to grow while I’m waiting for my surgical incisions to heal. In addition, leaving the tumor in place while I undergo treatment will give my physicians very valuable information. They will be able to watch it using several different methods as I undergo treatment. If it shrinks, they will know that the treatment is effective. If it doesn’t shrink, they will know right away that we should try another treatment course without waiting for a recurrence.

My doctor insisted that I will need to ask for help, and I assured her that I would. I doubt she can imagine how many generous people are eager to help my family through this difficult season, nor how many more are praying for me continuously. I am overwhelmed with gratitude.


A Special Request

I remember the fall of my junior year in college driving home one night after classes, during the middle of the week, even, to donate blood. I have O-negative blood so am considered a universal donor. But I made a three hour drive to donate blood that time, it was for my Aunt Cathy who was in the hospital undergoing very aggressive treatment for breast cancer. In the comments to my last post, my Aunt Cathy, now about 15 years cancer free, asked some questions and suggested I answer them here. As I feel like there’s little to do, or to report, while I await the oncologist appointment on Friday, I decided to take her suggestion.

My surgeon suggested genetic testing, and Aunt Cathy was curious about that, whether it’s standard practice now. This testing looks for specific mutations in two genes that increase a woman’s lifetime chance of breast cancer from around 12% to over 80%, her risk of ovarian cancer is also greatly increased. As such, many women with this mutation are diagnosed very young. Asymptomatic women with a very strong family history are sometimes tested, usually after thorough genetic counseling. For these women, a positive result means at the very least more frequent mammograms and MRIs. Many choose to undergo a prophylactic (preventative) mastectomy and oophorectomy to reduce their cancer risk.

Apparently, many doctors also now suggest this test to very young women diagnosed with breast cancer. A positive result for a woman already diagnosed with breast cancer is still informative. Because the tumors associated with a mutation tend to be more aggressive, it might suggest to an oncologist to take a more aggressive treatment course with chemotherapy. Few women with this mutation choose to keep their breasts, even if they have only a small tumor, and once treatment is over, many choose to have their ovaries removed.

Based on my family history, I don’t expect a positive result. And in the immediate future, a positive result doesn’t make much difference to me. Because of the pathological results from both of my biopsies, I will be receiving the most aggressive treatments regardless. But the genetic testing will be informative; it would help me manage any increased risk for ovarian cancer, and it will give my daughter valuable information for health care in the future.


My New Blog

While Sally and I talk frequently of the blog we’d like to write, I never imagined this was the kind of blog I’d be starting this fall. What started as a cyst, which the surgeon assured me was nothing, quickly turned into a diagnosis of invasive breast cancer. In just over a week since that day, I’ve met with countless doctors and have undergone a battery of tests, yet more appointments and tests await. Still, the information gained from the first biopsy was enough for the surgeon to assure me that chemo was a necessity and surgery would follow. Whether or not radiation will be required will be determined by the surgical findings. I’ll meet with an oncologist on Friday and will hopefully know more about the specific course of chemo and the timeline for all my treatments.

The kids took the news harder than I’d hoped, but seem to be doing better every day. Emma Clare has become very attentive, asking how my appointments for the day have gone and wanting to know what’s coming up and when. If I even begin to look as though I’m in pain or upset, she is quick to see that I’m ok. Turner will just come and cuddle and if I ask what’s wrong, he’ll say, “You know, the cancer.”

I can’t say it quite enough. There has been such a generous outpouring of support. I’ve said it many times in the last week, and I know it’s true. I am not at all worried that we will have a need that remains unmet. We will be well taken care of. For that, and for constant prayers, I remain ever thankful.

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