Thursday, May 29, 2014

pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name, oh yeah

Portia, aka Portia the Healer, has been successfully installed as my wing woman. No punctured lungs, or any other scary potential side effects. Just a little (ok big) bump where she's sticking out to make her presence known. Apparently I don't have enough fat on my chest to conceal her... #humblebrag. To that I say, I am not ashamed of my Portia. She is here to help! Feel free to stare.

pre op smiles

meet portia. and some extra glue.
this is what she looks like underneath

and this is how she connects to my blood vessel.

This surgery was a lot harder on me than the lumpectomy. A lot more pain. Enough to where I woke up in the night and couldn't get back to sleep, so I went into the living room and read for a few hours. I've had a few people give me books, and I have loved them so far. The one I'm on right now was sent to me by my mama. It's called, "The Middle Place" by Kelly Corrigan.

Kelly was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 36. She has two young daughters, a husband, two older brothers, and her parents all of whom wish they could protect her from the cancer. "The Middle Place" refers to that time in early adulthood where you are stuck in between being responsible for your own family, and still feeling like you really NEED your parents to help you get through the tough stuff. The chapter where she told her parents her news hit very close to home.

I have had this book two days now, and I'm already halfway through. It's that good. Well, that and I had a few bonus hours of reading time thanks to my new friend Portia.

So - treatment updates. We have a chemo start date. If everything goes according to plan, we will be starting June 10th which is a Tuesday. After that we will be switching to Friday's, every two weeks. If we have no set backs with low white blood cell counts, then I will hopefully have my last chemo on September 19th. We are hoping for 8 rounds total, plus I think we might have to do a little bit of radiation for a lymph node that has been compromised. At the end of those 8 rounds we will do some scans and such to be sure we have gotten everything. If not we will tack on some more chemo with a newer drug that is a little harder on your system. Please pray that the extra chemo won't be necessary!

I am feeling a lot better about things now that we have a plan of action! I know that chemo will be completely horrible, but I'm ready to face it knowing that it's getting rid of the cancer. 12 days til it's go time.

Love y'all,

Sunday, May 25, 2014

this won't do, what's the matter with you? all it takes is faith and trust... oh! and something i forgot. dust! dust? dust? yep! just a little bit of pixie dust.

Ok y'all. I did it. Please enjoy this photo essay, courtesy of my mama:

before. with the lovely and talented kim.
this is it. don't get scared now.
oh. em. gee.
no. nothing's wrong. this is just what my face looks like.

ta da!
short hair. don't care.

Thanks Kim so much for squeezing me in on Memorial Weekend. I love it so much!

Everyone cross your fingers that I can pull this off without Kim to fix it for me!

Love y'all,

PS: Is it breezy in here, or is it just me?

Friday, May 23, 2014

and it's hard to dance with the devil on your back, so shake him off, oh whoa-oh

First things, first: Happy Birthday, Mama! I love you so so much.

So, yesterday ended up being a bust, but I'm taking it in stride. The plan was to go in and biopsy some tiny tiny tiny "things" on my liver that looked abnormal. I have known about these spots since the very first CT scan (remind me later to tell you THAT story...) Everyone assured me they were "probably nothing" but as you know, we've heard that before. We decided it would be a good idea to get a better picture of them via MRI as a precaution, but nobody seemed concerned. In the meantime we had to schedule a PET scan of the area as well due to an enlarged lymph node. A PET scan (which I had never heard of before recently) is a scan where they radiate you, and inject you with sugar water because cancer cells love to eat up sugar. Anything cancerous will show up "hot" on the scan. When we got the reports back for the two scans they were a little conflicting. The MRI showed that they looked abnormal, however they didn't come back as "hot" according to the PET scan. What to do?

Dr. D decided to get a second opinion as to whether or not we should go through with the biopsy. A few days later, I got a call asking when we could schedule it, so we booked it for yesterday (May 22). Up until this point I had been assuming that there was nothing to worry about as far as it spreading to other organs, so naturally, scheduling a biopsy made me quite anxious. Mama volunteered to be my chaperone, so we took her up on it since Connor will be taking time off next week so I can get my port. Hallelujah!

We arrived at the facility, and checked in with the reception desk. They gave me a wrist band, and asked me to confirm my birthdate. I've been asked my birthday so many times in the last month that I've started writing it in place of the current date. Whoops! I got the question right, so my prize was more paperwork to fill out! I glanced at it, and the name Malieka C. was written at the top along with the name of another insurer. Ummm.....? I gave mom a look and told her to pray harder. We eventually got the paperwork sorted out.

I changed into a gown, and the nurses tried to start an IV. I set a new personal best of 3 needle sticks in one visit. Sigh... bring on the port! We eventually got that sorted out, and they wheeled me into the procedure room in a hospital bed. They let me walk when I did the lumpectomy, so this felt weird. Like, a confirmation that I'm actually sick. :(

Once I got to the room, we had to start the ceremonial "small talk" with all the doctors, nurses, and other random people that I'm not sure what their function/purpose was. I think I counted 6 different people back there... One of the girls remarked that we were born only a few months apart. The doctor asked me what I do for a living, and I gave my standard, "I'm an Interior Designer. It's not decorating," speech. The doctor then wondered if I had a degree, and if so, where would one get such a degree? I answered, "Yes, I have a degree. It's a Bachelors of Interior Design, which I know sounds fake, but I promise it's real." Then I told him I went to Texas Tech. December 1982 birthday girl piped up, "Oh my friend went there. Were you in school when that hot coach was still playing!?" "Yes I was." "Oooh! He's like a cross between Ryan Gosling and Adam Levine," said Dec. 1982 girl. The doctor was not amused by our takeover of his chosen small talk topic.

So for the biopsy I was to be partially aware, but numbed up, so they could tell me when to hold my breath for the CT scan. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous. The doctor explained to me about how loud the "biopsy gun" is, and please try not to be startled. Biopsy GUN!? I'm already startled by the words "biopsy gun"! We started with an ultrasound of my neck because of a "hot spot" that was seen on the PET scan. I got a nice massage from the wand thing while he looked and looked for the spot. He couldn't find anything to biopsy, and said that the thing that showed up on the scan was probably some "migrated thyroid tissue". Apparently that's a thing? Whatever, I was just ecstatic that we were already crossing one biopsy off the list. Next, it was time to check out my liver.

I finagled myself from the aforementioned hospital bed to the CT scanner while wearing a hospital gown, some electrodes, and an IV, so they could look for the spot on my liver. After many minutes of scanning, it was determined that it was too tiny, and too well hidden to get to. (It's so nice and cozy under your lung!) So I flipped over (also not an easy task) and they looked for the spot that was supposedly easier to get to. Unfortunately, this one was even tinier than the spot hanging out under my lung, and too tiny to be able to hit with the biopsy gun. Drat.

The doctor came back out to talk to me, and explain the situation. I was pretty bummed until he said that if I had come in for an MRI because I hurt my back, and the spots were found that way, that they would hardly think twice about them. They would definitely monitor them, but the biopsy was ordered just because spots + cancer diagnosis = extra precautions. So... after all that, I came out with an extra CT scan of an area we already scanned with 3 different methods. Truthfully, I'm not sure why they couldn't have determined it was too hard/too small to reach by looking at the previous scans? Oh well. I'm done wasting my time worrying about things I can't control. We will scan it again in 3 months, and THAT will be THAT.

Needless to say, we got to leave much sooner than we expected. Sidenote: I was apparently so calm during all of the scanning, flipping, and small talk, that the doctor thought I had already been drugged even though I hadn't. I'm not sure if that's a compliment or not... haha. Mama and I got to leave the facility around 1 or 1:30, and had a late lunch at Jason's Deli. We were in Addison, so we were pretty close to the church where Connor and I got married, and the cemetery where my mom's side of the family is buried. It was a great way to end the afternoon by saying hello to Pa, Aunt Jennie, Uncle William, Aunt Barbara, and many many other loved ones.

Frankford Church. Photo Credit: Jennifer Yarbro Photography

Frankford Church. Photo Credit: Jennifer Yarbro Photography

Thanks so much for your continued prayers. We aren't out of the woods yet... but I am up for the challenge!

Stats thus far:

1 lumpectomy
5 ultrasounds
11 attempts to draw blood and/or start an IV
2 CT scans
1 bone scan
2 MRI's
1 PET scan

So if I'm glowing the next time you see me, you'll know why. :)

Love y'all,

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

i whistle a happy tune, and every single time, the happiness in the tune, convinces me that i'm not afraid...

Hello friends. First a little business. I've heard from several of you that you tried, but were unable to comment on my blog posts. I think I have fixed that, so feel free to comment away! Let me know if you're still having problems.

We're still in limbo as far as starting treatment goes. Tomorrow is going to be a pretty big day for me in determining what we are up against, and we probably won't have any results til after the holiday weekend. Please pray and think lots of happy thoughts that no more abnormalities will be found. I am trying so so hard to be brave, but it is not easy. I love all of you, and all of your songs. I'm up to 302 now, but I am greedy, so keep sending them!

So while we are waiting, let's move onto part two in the continuing saga of how we got to where we are today. Last time we talked, I had just gotten my first ever mammogram and been told once again that it was "probably nothing". I had always heard how bad mammograms were (they squish your boobs between huge plates and take xrays of them). I'll admit - it sounds terrible, but it really wasn't that big of a deal for me. Maybe I had built it up in my head? Or maybe small boobs don't feel pain like larger ones? I'm not even joking when I say the worst part was not being allowed to wear deodorant. Awful. For everyone involved.

Bonus! Tiny squishy baby pic, and one of my happiest ever moments.

So I didn't actually get to see my films in this appointment. The radiologist sent me on my way rather quickly. I was convinced there was nothing wrong with me and I could breathe a sigh of relief. There was some paperwork they handed me with a notice about "Henda's Law." I scanned over it briefly, but again, wasn't super concerned. It said something about how if you have dense breast tissue then they have to inform you. I considered myself informed.

As I mentioned last time, Dr. M made me an appointment with Dr. D (the surgeon) to get the lump biopsied. I saw Dr. D for the first time on April 18th. I first had to pick up my films from some random building I had never been in before on the Baylor campus. The suite I went to to pick them up was called the Darlene G. Cass Women's Imaging Center. Everything was purple. And shiny. And sparkly. The room was dimly lit and filled with (older) women. They handed me the films, and I pulled them out real quick to look at the source of all of these unnecessary doctor's appointments. I couldn't see it, but I chalked it up to the dim lighting, and my untrained eyes.

I walked the 5 minutes to Dr. D's office, in another building I had never been to. Apparently the decision to walk instead of drive was surprising to the staff. Take control of your health, people! This building had a scary name. Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center. I gave the receptionist the films, and waited for my turn. When I was called in to the exam room, she had them on display in the light box. I still couldn't see anything from my vantage point at the door. I walked over and looked closely. Right up next to the thing. I couldn't see ANYTHING. The mammogram technician had me place a little sticker with a metal dot directly over the lump before taking the pictures. I could see the dot perfectly... but no lump. What? I looked at the paperwork again informing me about Henda's Law.

Henda Salmeron is a lady from Dallas who had been having regular mammograms for years with no signs of anything wrong. At age 42, she decided she needed to lose a little weight, which lead to her finding a lump that the mammograms had missed. She found out later that it was cancer, and that the doctors hadn't told her that her breast tissue was too dense to be able to see lumps in a mammogram. More about Henda's story here: Henda's Law

Below is a comparison of a "normal" breast on the left and a "dense" breast on the right. Disclaimer: Neither of these belong to me, so sorry you have (probably) not seen my boobs.

Like trying to find a snowball in a blizzard.

After a few minutes of educating myself about Henda, and contemplating how unceremoniously I had been "informed" of my tissue situation (probably not what Henda had intended...), Dr. D arrived in the exam room to check me out. I was fully prepared for something called a "core needle biopsy" right then and there. Basically they stick a huge needle in you, and then examine the tissue in a lab to make sure everything is kosher. Once again, Dr. D thought it was "probably nothing."  We decided together that since it was kind of annoying and all signs pointed to benign fibroadenoma, that we might as well just move forward with taking it out, and then we would biopsy it afterwards just to be sure. Two birds with one stone, or something like that.

I had never had surgery before, unless you count wisdom teeth (which I don't) so it was a little exciting. They give you colorful fuzzy/grippy socks! You get to come home and lay on your couch and watch netflix! (Actually I went for Drunk History on Amazon Prime. Edutainment at it's finest.) After going back and forth with estimates for insurance, we scheduled the surgery for April 30.

The big day came, and I was ready. And hungry. No food or drink after midnight! They had me change into a gown and hooked me up to an IV. The nurse tried to start it in my hand, and failed. Try number two was a bit more successful, but the damage was done. Huge bruise on the hand! We waited in a little cubicle meant to give us some privacy, and ended up giggling at all the elderly people we were surrounded by who were having cataract surgery. Apparently they didn't get that just because they couldn't see anyone, didn't mean that they couldn't be heard loudly and clearly. They were cute.

The procedure went fine, and Dr. D even said the lump "looked" fine, but I would have the results of the biopsy in 2-3 days. You don't have to tell me 4 times, people! I rested comfortably for the rest of the afternoon without a single thought about it.

The next day, I was working from home as I was not allowed to shower, and was required to wear a sports bra. Plus, I really wanted to wear sweat pants. I got a call from Dr. D, and thought, "Oh how nice, she's calling to check on how I'm feeling."

That was the phone call that changed my life forever. It was cancer, and I had to make a choice. Drown in my sorrows or rise to the challenge. I had a few days where I couldn't think about anything happy. Couldn't see the possibility of surviving, much less thriving. Now I can clearly see how precious life is, and how "worth it" the fight is. I am an AUNT for goodness sake. Cancer doesn't understand how important I am. Don't worry y'all, I'll show them.

Blake is on team Jess!
Please pray, friends. Send me the vibes.

Love, Jess

Friday, May 16, 2014

she's in my shower, for an hour, she's just washin' and wonderin', and trying to figure me out...

Hello Friends. Right now we are in what feels like the longest ever period of waiting. We are doing lots of testing, lab work, scans, etc to figure out exactly what we are up against. We don’t have a chemo start date yet, but we know there will be chemo. There will also be a port, which I am actually excited about because I have the world’s tiniest, slipperiest veins.  A port will make it so much easier for them to get me the medicine I need, and take my blood so they can get the information they need.

My friend, Dee Anna, suggested I should name my port, because he (or she?) is going to become a huge part of me, and a constant companion while I’m going through this process. She has a friend who was diagnosed 2 years ago at age 28 who named her’s Ellen, because of her obsession with Ellen DeGeneres. Maybe mine will be Portia? Get it Port-ia? Portia and Ellen? You get it.

She's doing great now, and has even started a nonprofit to give a bag filled with things that made her feel beautiful during her journey to other women going through the same thing. So cool. Here's her blog if you're interested:

It's so great to hear stories of people who have beaten this thing. I can't wait to be added to that list.

While we’re waiting to actually get started with treatment, I thought I would take you back to March 30th. The day I found it. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I was in the shower. Connor was out playing racquetball with friends, so I was home alone. I’m just scrubbing like normal, when suddenly I felt something that I hadn’t felt before.

“What is that?”

“Was that there before?”

“Does the other side feel the same?”

“Yeah, they feel the same.”

“This is nothing.”

“No. They don’t feel the same.”

“There is definitely something there.”

“How long has this been there?”

“Will it go away?”

“Is it cancer?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, of course it’s not cancer.”
I eventually got out of the shower, but I didn’t stop wondering about it. It was smooth, kind of rubbery, about the size of a small-ish grape, and it moved a little bit when you poked at it. Man oh man did I poke at it. I kept wondering if it would get bigger or maybe it would even just go away. I started googling things. This time google was actually not so scary. Google said it was very common for women of my age to get these hormonal lumps. Also 80% of breast lumps are not cancer. 80% sounds pretty good… plus I’m young, right? I was still nervous though. When Connor got home, we went for a walk and talked about it. We decided to call my doctor just to get it checked out, but we both agreed it was “probably nothing.”

The next day I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Plus, by this time I had poked at it so much that it was sore. I called my doctor that afternoon, and had an appointment to see her the next day. Dr. M felt it, and assured me “it’s probably nothing”. Still we decided it was smart to go get a mammogram. I made an appointment for April 9th.

The day of the mammogram came, and again the radiologist told me “it’s probably nothing”. He said it’s theoretically possible for a tumor to be smooth and round and movable, but it’s highly unlikely. He recommended that I should get it biopsied, but the way he said it really made me think that he was only saying it so I wouldn't sue him.  At this point, I am a little irritated because I feel like I am being silly, and getting all worked up about a highly common benign lump. They even had a fancy name for it - fibroadenoma.

Later that day I was driving home from work, and I got a call from Dr. M. She says she received the paperwork from the radiologist, and she thinks we should get it biopsied. “Really!?” I say. “The radiologist didn’t seem concerned. I don’t know if it’s worth it.” “Oh you should absolutely get it checked out. I’m making an appointment for you.”

I am cheap. And stubborn. So I didn’t want to. I called my mom and my sister to see what they thought. I am so thankful they along with Dr. M convinced me it was worth it to check it out further.

There are a lot of times when I’m looking at my I CAN SURVIVE CANCER notebook given to me by Baylor, or a letter from my insurance saying they have decided my MRI was medically necessary (thanks for that insurance provider…) and I think, “Is this really my life?” It’s still so surreal. I’ve spent hours in tiny tubes getting scanned. I have scientists looking at my DNA to see if I have a known genetic mutation that causes breast cancer. It is hard to grasp that this is real life.

Thank you again for all of your messages and playlist suggestions. The playlist is (Chris Traeger voice) literally the best idea I’ve ever had. Ok not literally, but close. I listen to it, and when each song comes up I remember fun times with the person who suggested it. Plus, the songs are all so great. Some of them are happy, some of them are contemplative, and some of them are a call to be a fighter. All of them are special. It’s been so much fun reconnecting with old friends. Still working my way through responding to your messages. I'm trying to keep most of my thoughts on "normal" things, so it may take me a while, but I am so thankful to everyone who has reached out. Y'all are truly awesome.

Love y’all,

Monday, May 12, 2014

yeah this one right here goes out to all the baby's mamas, mamas... mamas, mamas, baby mamas, mamas. yeah go like this...

I had lots of good intentions for posting this on Mother’s day, but sometimes life gets in the way of your plans. You know? I sure do! Warning: This post is long.

I had THE BEST weekend. My brother-in-law’s sister (are you following that) got married Friday night in Lubbock, so Kathryn, Kellen, and my sweet nephew were in Grand Prairie on Saturday night for a layover on their way home. From the pictures, I can tell that Morgan was the most beautiful bride. Kate and Cora were the most precious flower girls, and Blake was the cutest, sweetest, ring bearer pulled via wagon I ever did see. Two words: Baby tie.
two teeth!


We spent Saturday night in Grand Prairie, and went to church with my parents on Sunday morning. It was good to be home. I got lots of hugs and prayers, and I can’t even begin to tell you how good that was.

We then headed to Arlington for lunch to spend some time with Bill and Colleen (Connor’s parents) and Grandma Helen. I also got a great nap. Excellent afternoon.

After that we headed back to GP for a graduation party for my cousin Jane, so my weekend was filled with lots and lots of family time. So. Good.

Now for the point of this post: I wanted to take a minute to say “I love you” to some of the mamas in my life:

First, I want to say thank you to my friend, Emily, who is a mama to be, due in September. Emily sent me flowers on the Saturday after the diagnosis (my hardest day). They arrived while I was lying in bed feeling sorry for myself, and googling things I shouldn’t have been googling. I cried when they arrived. These were my first happy tears, and the flowers helped me to get out of bed and face the unknown.

My mother in law, Colleen. This lady made ME lunch on mother’s day, and then let me mess up the clean sheets in their guest room because I was so emotionally and physically exhausted and needed a nap. She is such a hard worker, and loves her family fiercely. Most of the time I don’t even realize how hard she is working, because she is just quietly doing it while we are all sitting around. I’m so glad to have her.

Grandma Helen. This is Connor’s grandma who the first time I met her, waved me down with a napkin on a neighborhood street, so I would know which house was the right one. She is hilarious, and always says EXACTLY what she is thinking. When we told her the news, her first words were, “What!? But you have no breasts!” Oh my goodness, I am still laughing about that. Right after, however, she grabbed my hand and said, “Jessica, I couldn’t love you any more if you were my own daughter. This isn’t what it used to be, and you will beat this.” Exactly what I needed to hear.

My dad’s sister, Aunt Kay.  She was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was in college. It was very advanced when they caught it, and she passed away a few years after her diagnosis. She and my Uncle David lived in Lubbock while I was in college and were always there for me when I needed them. Her biggest love was her grandchildren, and she hung in there just long enough to meet my cousin Heather’s son, Daniel. I miss her so.

My sister, Kathryn. I am so thankful for the beautiful mama she has become. Her sweet Blake waves at me on facetime, and just makes everything better. Kathryn and I used to fight as kids. Like a lot. I think it has made our bond so much stronger though... I just love her so much, and I know I can tell her anything and everything, and she will be there for me.

Lastly, my mama. I draw so much strength from her. We took a trip to Europe when I was 18 – just the girls. We had one terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, where everything went wrong. She sat us down in a seedy train station in Paris and said, “We are STRONG TEXAS WOMEN and we can do this.” She has always been there cheering me on, and this time is no different. I will get through this, with my mama standing behind me showing me the way. I love you, Mama.

Whew, that was long. Thank you everyone for the comments, playlist suggestions, hugs, prayers, good juju, etc. Keep it coming. I haven’t had a chance to respond to all of them yet, but I will, I promise.

Love y’all,

Saturday, May 10, 2014

every little thing is gonna be alright

Breast cancer. There, I said it. Haha, so no joke, I just heard Dumbledore's voice in my head, "Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself." Smart man, Dumbledore.

Got the call Thursday, May 1 at about 3pm, and my world stopped. In the past 10 days I have gone through such a range of emotions. Fear, shock, sadness, depression, confusion, anger, relief, happiness, comfort, love, joy... I'm missing several more. I have cried many tears, but the place I'm in now is good. I am feeling strong. I am ready to fight. It won't be easy, but I KNOW I can do it with the help of my awesome doctors, nurses, and all of you.

I am planning to use this blog as a space to keep all of you updated on my progress, and recovery. As of May 1st I am a cancer SURVIVOR. So check back in to see how I'm doing.

Additionally, I am starting a chemo playlist, and I need your help. I'm looking for uplifting, inspirational songs that will help me feel strong.  Really, just a song that takes you to a happy place where you just want to get up and dance would be perfect. I'm collecting all of these on spotify, and sharing the link below if you want to follow along. If your suggestion is already on the list, please tell me anyway. I will think of you when I hear it. Even if we haven't spoken in years, or if we barely know each other. Send me a suggestion. I will add it to the list!

My sweet friend Sidney got me this awesome plate, which is now hanging on the wall in my dining room with the rest of my collection of special/pretty plates, so naturally Michael Jackson has now been added to the playlist.

Coming soon - a rockin' pixie cut. I've never been brave enough to chop ALL of my hair off, but right now it feels empowering. Let's do this thing.

Playlist can be found here:
every little thing is gonna be alright

Love y'all.

PS: If you're prayerful, please say a prayer for me. If you're more of a positive energy kinda guy/gal then send me good vibes. I feel your thoughts and prayers. They are fueling me. :)