Sunday, September 9, 2012

Radiation is DONE!

Well not quite....but, tomorrow is my last day of radiation.

My skin is darker in the area that was radiated, but it's not too noticeable just looks a sunburned. Christian even asked where I got my suntan....I did not experience any pain, exhaustion, horrible skin side effects, etc.. Dr Altemus is quite pleased with the result. I saw her on Friday to explain the skin will begin to peel in brown layers, but it should look pretty much the same once I "shed".  Sometimes, the nipple will be paler than the other nipple due to excess exposure. I explained that I really don't care. As long as I am cancer free then I am fine with a pale nipple :O

I will follow-up with her in one month and then 6 months to examine my breast to be sure all is healing nicely.  Sometimes, the radiation can make the breast shrink up a little and if this is a concern then I can have my other breast lifted. I noticed they are a little lopsided, but not enough to bother me; However, we will soon see the final results once I have healed.

This week, I will make my appointment with Dr Heyer and Dr Chiantella for a follow-up. Dr Heyer and I will discuss next steps - just watch me or a low dose of chemo since I don't have a maintenance drug.  I am the one who pushed for a low dose of chemo, only because the thought of the cancer returning scares me. However, he told me pretty much to simmer down. He wanted to see what my pathology results were (negative of cancer cells) and how I did in radiation.  I am terrified, like always, of this appointment, but I think I will always be terrified of any oncology visit. I have pondered a lot over these 6 weeks about life and cancer.

Cancer certainly annihilated every bit of me - more emotionally than physically. I have a different perspective in life and have changed the way I live and love. I take nothing for granted. I get up every day and thank God for my blessed life and will not take life or the people in my life for granted. My inner being is the same as I don't think I would have faired as easily as I did if I wasn't stubborn and tough. I won't change who I am because that is who got me through this journey, but I will change my perception of life. Make sense? A good friend of mine, also a cancer survivor, told me "Respect the Beast". I couldn't say it any simpler. People  say - You kicked cancer's ass. You are a rock star. I smile and say "Yep", but they ask why I don't see excited about it. Well, by no means am I not ecstatic about beating cancer, but I will not gloat. I have asked myself this many times, why won't I allow myself to scream at the top of my lungs, "F&*! you cancer" while I dance in circles waving my middle fingers...It's because of two things. 1) I am terrified of cancer and always will be. 2) I am not a showoff. My dad always told me and just told me the other week when we were talking about my Bucket List, "Barbie, I am very proud of you. You have worked very hard for everything you have and earned, but never brag. Remember who you are and where you came from". My Dad instilled this early in my life and continues to do so. Sometimes, we all need a reminder on how precious life really is. Either it be a gentle reminder or a hardcore reminder - Remember tomorrow is never promised.

Please keep me and my family in your prayers and I will keep everyone posted!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Radiation is underway and so far so good. Today was my fourth radiation treatment. I will have six weeks total which is approximately 31 rounds with the last four to five rounds being more localized. I am lucky to have Dr. Rosemary Altemus as my radiation oncologist. She is absolutely amazing. Full of energy and a serious wealth of knowledge. I absolutely adore her and the staff. Prior to my first treatment, I had to be scanned, so they can "map" the area.  After it was all said and done with it, I looked like a treasure map. They had to take measurements and align the machines. Honestly, this machine is something out of a movie. I feel like an experiement while this robot hovers over me clicking and shooting a laser at me. A typical day consists of the following:

I scan my id and wait until I am called back. I undress from the top up and then go to another area. I scan my id and tell the technician my name and birthdate. I go into a room (It's more like an enormous vault)which only consists of this gigantic machine. I lay down on a steel bed and adjust my head on the personal mold which helps the technicians align my body to the machine. One technician yells out some numbers while another confirms and provides more data via a speaker. The other technician comes in and they adjust my body, accordingly. Sometimes they mark me up some more and sometimes they don't.  After about 5 minutes, I am ready. They exit the "vault" and a huge steel door is automatically closed. My friend, the radiation robot (RR), goes to work. I really can't describe it, but RR reminds me of a huge face looking down and scrutinizing me. RR appears to have teeth which are obviously not teeth, but adjusts depending on the area it's radiating, so it looks like he is talking to me. When it's time for radiation, RR begins to hover over me and move to the side. Honestly, I don't watch. As soon as they close the vault door, I close my eyes, breathe, and pray. I pray to God and Blessed Mary asking they continue to heal me. Let me live, so I can see my daughter grow and grow old with Christian. Sometimes, I just repeat a word over and over again to help me maintain calmness. Words like HEAL, LIGHT. In approximately 2 minutes, it's over. I told the technician, it is amazing how something that literally takes only 2 minutes helps me in such a remarkable way, but at the same token is so bad for me.

So far, the skin in the area looks normal. I am not expected to get soreness until about week 3. Dr. Altemus speaks to me every Tuesday to take a look at the area and to talk. She states this will be cake walk compared to chemo and surgery (Under normal circumstances), but we both know, chemo and surgery thankfully was not a horrid experience, so I am crossing my fingers radiation proves to be the same. I have a little bit of a swollen area from surgery and that should go away soon. It's in the same area as my tumor and I hate the feeling of it because it's a reminder. She continually assures me it's fine and not a cancerous tumor. It is getting better with time. She mentioned that sometimes when there is a large area that it can be poked with a needle (kinda like a blister) to allow draingage. I suppose she saw my mind racing and quickly said not to try it because it can risk infection. Fine.

On another note, I already have a full head of hair! My hair is growing like wild fire. I already had to get my eyebrows waxed.  The hair is very dark, but my grey did return. Also, my cowlick returned but I am not bitching. I am happy to have hair, again :)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Surgery Update and Pathology Results

I apologize for the very long delay in posting, but we just got our power back this morning which has been out since Friday evening.

My lumpectomy was last Thursday and I was a little sore on Thursday and Friday, but began to feel back to normal on Saturday. There still is a lot of bruising, but every day it looks better. I have my follow-up with Dr. Chiantella tomorrow. I am tickled with the surgery, and her obvious precision with the knife, as there are no physical deformities of the breast. After radiation there may be a noticeable difference as the skin surrounding the breast will more than likely tighten and raise the breast up. If this is the case, Dr. Gottlieb will perform a lift on the right breast in an attempt to match the breasts.

Now for the best news! My pathology report came back as normal, which means no residual cells detected! I will have a PET scan within the next ten days to confirm no detectable cancer and then radiation will begin the end of July. Once radiation ends, then I will meet Dr. Heyer again to discuss next steps, which will most likely be one of the following:
  1. Continue to watch (PET scans every three months)
  2. Chemo (smaller dose of one of the drugs I had before called Taxotere, a derivative of Taxol)
  3. Chemo (a different type of chemotherapy drug)

I am waiting on the Reston Radiation Oncology office to confirm my appointment. I will either see Dr. Rosemary Altemus or Dr. Jefferson E. C. Moulds. They are both booked until the end of the month, but have participated in all the discussions and board reviews, so they are well aware of my situation. My appointment should be scheduled within the next week or two.

I pray and thank God every day for this miracle.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Surgeon Chit Chat

Today, I had a meeting with both my breast and plastic surgeons. I would love to know what their combined IQ is - seriously. The purpose of the meeting was to get "on the same page" regarding my surgery. Really, it was them talking, me shaking my head, and suggesting I just pull down my dress so they can touch the boob in all their glory while discussing incisions, etc. ... which I did.

In any event, Dr. Chiantella confirmed that there is no scar tissue evident in my MRI, which is amazing. She will remove the tissue around the area where the tumor started ("ground zero") and send to pathology for residual cancer cell and receptor testing. If residual cells are found then the radiation will take care of it. Regardless of positive or negative residual cell results, I will have radiation as a precaution. The receptor testing was Dr. Heyer's suggestion. He wants to know if there are positive receptors for maintenance drug purposes, since I currently don't have a maintenance drug to take with triple negative breast cancer.

Dr. Heyer and I discussed a low dosage of chemotherapy post radiation, which I am not opposed to. I can't recall if I discussed this on my blog or not, but he was thinking of giving me just one drug, Taxotere and a lower dosage than previously administered. My 18-week chemotherapy cocktail consisted of Taxotere and Carboplatin every three weeks. For maintenance purposes, I would get only Taxotere once a week for three weeks then one week off. The administering of Taxotere is not limited as in some other chemotherapy drugs. This means, you can only get so much of a drug and then need to start on something else, because your body becomes immune to it. As far as side effects, the biggest complaint is discolored nails and, of course, mental and psychological wear. Fatigue is hard to gauge. Of course, everyone is different but he said it's mostly your mind set. You just need to be positive and have a good mindset. Now, chemo maintenance is not a definite. He wants to know the MRI and pathology results first before making a decision. So, at this point the MRI results are outstanding and now praying for a good pathology report.

Now, the discussion today focused on what exactly they are going to do and if I would need some type of plastic surgery. They expect the removal of tissue to be small, so it may not have a significant scar where I would need plastic surgery. This all depends on where Dr. Chiantella needs to cut, how much, and if the area where the tissue is removed heals correctly. A breast indention is possible. If this happens then it would be in the future that I would have fat from another part of my body removed and placed on the indention. Also, I may need a lift on the right breast since once a breast is subject to radiation it usually tightens and draws up. So, for purely cosmetic and symmetrical purposes, they will lift and maybe minimize the right breast. Again, this is a year or so down the road.

Tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. I will have a wire inserted in the breast which will help guide the surgeon to "ground zero" where she will just carve out a piece of the surrounding tissue. She is going to feel my lymph nodes for sizing. My tumor began in the back on the chest wall, so if you are looking directly at me then to the side of my aureola all the way back then that is the starting point of all this. As you can imagine, the tumor was big since I could see it bulging from the top of my breast. Once that procedure is done, they escort me to the outpatient surgical center where I will get prepped for surgery. They will draw a bunch of lines on me (I really didn't understand all that talk, so I sat there and just shook my head while remaining topless and listened to them). I do know that sometimes what's inside could be different then what shows on the MRI, so that will be indicative of how much she removes. I will be in recovery for a couple hours and then go home.

I apologized in advance for what I say or do since I will be given some crazy drugs. It appears I am pretty funny when I am high since during my mediport surgery I put on quite a show for Kwiatek and Amy which I remember none of. I talked about Michael Jackson's milk. I do recall waking up and asking them "When are we getting this show on the road, people?" I was oblivious because the "show" already took place. I remember nothing else. Dr. Gottlieb assured me that anything I say or do will be kept a secret ;)

Post surgery, I have four weeks to heal then radiation begins. I have no idea how long radiation will last, but will know in the next few weeks. Probably six weeks, every day.

So ... keep me in your prayers and either myself or Kwiatek will keep everyone updated.

Lots of Love and Light,


Monday, June 25, 2012

MRI Results...

I had my MRI this am and everything went off without a hitch, except for my "deep breathing" during the scan which caused a little delay (Note - don't deep breathe during the scan because the technician will think you are extremely fatigued and then you will have to do the whole sequence over - ooppss). I received 3 cds' and a promise from the technician that I would receive a call within the next 24-48 hours when my report is ready. I explained my surgery was Thursday, so my Drs' were quite anxious to get the results (ok.ok. I was probably just as anxious if not moreso than the Drs'.) The tech explained Dr Chiantella is usually hard on them and they will expedite the review and if it's not quick enough then she, Dr Chiantella, will access the system herself (I knew I loved this woman).

I received a call about 4:15.

Chiantella: Jennifer, your results are negative
Jennifer: What do you mean negative? Oh crap, did I mess up the scans from my deep breathing?
Chiantella: ummm...noooo....It's negative. Normal.
Jennifer: Really? Like Normal?
Chiantella: Well, I haven't seen them yet and am anxious to see this myself, but your left breast is completely normal.
Jennifer: What about my lymph nodes?
Chiantella: Normal, too.
Jennifer: Wow..I don't know what to say
Chaintella: How about ecstatically happy because I am ecstatically happy for you.
Jennifer: Oh I am ecstatically happy, don't get me wrong!
Chiantella: (laughing) Jennifer, you really kicked some cancer butt
Jennifer: I did, didn't I?
Chiantella: So, we are good to go with the lumpectomy followed by radiation. The only glitch which isn't a glitch is that I need the radiologist to insert a wire into your breast that will help me navigate to the tissue surrounding your marker when I do the lumpectomy. I hope to have an answer by tomorrow when you can be scheduled, but your surgery is still on for Thursday as of right now. In the future, if the cancer would return to the breast which I don't foresee this happening then we will do extensive surgery, but right now this is all you need.
Jennifer: Ok. Sounds good. Well what about antibiotics..special soap?
Chiantella: Nothing. You don't have to do any of that. You will be in the recovery room for about 2 hours after surgery and then you can go home.
Jennifer: Wow. Ok...Are you sure?
Chiantella: Yep. Positive.

This was the jist of our conversation. I's crazy. I am sooo thankful, blessed, grateful. I can go on and on and on. It all seems so unreal.

I will wait to hear from Dr Chiantella and crossing my fingers the surgery will be set for Thursday. I will have  radiation 4 weeks from Thursday. Right now, It's set for 6 weeks but I have yet to speak to the radiation oncologist (I actually have not met either, but both have already been studying my case). Dr Heyer mentioned a PET before radiation began, as well.

I will continue to keep everyone updated on surgery. I thank each and every one of you for the continued thoughts and prayers. Miracles do happen, I just never imagined it could happen to me.

God Bless.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

MRI Scheduled

Hi Everyone,

A quick update - my MRI is scheduled for tomorrow morning. Dr Chinatella ordered the MRI to confirm if she can do a lumpectomy based on my tissue and to take a look at my lymph nodes.  I would imagine she will review the images asap since my surgery is scheduled for Thursday unless they need to postpone...I will keep everyone updated. Please keep praying.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Decision

The past few weeks I have had a heavy heart and mind as I struggled to make a decision - unilateral or bilateral mastectomy. Normally, it's not difficult for me to make a decision, but I struggled and struggled...I prayed to God that he would give me an answer, give me a sign on what to do, or reassurance I will make the right decision as either option just didn't feel "right". I had decided to get a second opinion from an oncologist as I only wanted to understand better where Heyer was coming from. It is NOT that I did not trust him because I do, but I just simply needed more reassurance. I have connections with Dr. Sandy Swain, but she was unavailable to talk to me as she is traveling the world for her new position. I was referred to another office. I received a call quickly, but from a very rude woman.  The conversation pretty much went like this:

Lady - "Can I speak to Jennifer Campbell this is __ calling from __ office"
Me - "This is she"
Lady - "First of all, what insurance do you have?"
Me - "Blue Cross Blue Shield"
Lady - "Second of all, we do not make an appointment without having your records on file."
Me - "Well, I can have my records within in a few days. Can I please make an appointment as my surgery is the 28th"
Lady - "NO, absolutely not"
Me - "Well, how long can I get an appointment once you receive my records?"
Lady - "It depends on when I receive your records"
Me - "Ok. Well, what if you get my records on Monday. How soon?"
Lady - "We are looking at the end of June"
Me - "Seriously? That doesn't really help me"
Lady - "Well, that is our procedure"

I just pretty much hang up.

I receive a call this Monday from the surgeons office asking where I need my records sent and I explained that I can't get an appointment. I tried to ask the girl if it's possible Dr Chiantella can speak to a fellow oncologist about my situation and get his/her opinion. The girl could not understand what I was trying to ask...She asks me to hold on and then then Dr Chiantella gets on the phone. I quickly asked her if it's possible and she said - it's a good idea but she can get me into another office. I thanked her and immediately called her referral and could not get an appointment until next Wednesday (day before my surgery). On Tuesday morning, I receive a call from Dr Chiantella asking if my ears were burning. I explained no because in a half hour I am scheduled to see Dr Heyer and am focused on getting through that appointment. She proceeded to tell me that she had a Breast Board Meeting that morning with the following individuals (I think I have to the ratio correct):

2 Oncologists (Not Heyer)
3 Radiation Oncologists
1 Radiologist
3 Breast Surgeons
2 Pathologists
1 Plastic Surgeon

She brought up my situation and said it was "A VERY lively discussion, but they ALL came to a consensus. Drumroll please....

Lumpectomy with Radiation

I know...I know...I know...I was like - wtf. Are you serious? However, believe it or not I got a sense of peace when she told me. I really can't explain it, but I decided to keep quiet and hear her out.

A lumpectomy with radiation has pretty much the same statistical reoccurance rate as a unilateral mastectomy, but a lot less invasive, risks, and recovery. According to Dr Chiantella, they are evolutionizing this treatment plan because there is none set in place but to feel safe knowing there was much thought put into this decision factored by very brilliant doctors specializing in all fields related to my case. They will not remove my lymph nodes since radiation will kill any residual cancer cells, but they will remove and test my breast tissue for residual cancer cells. First, I need a MRI so she can study my breast and analyze my tissue, margins, and lymph nodes.  Hopefully, the MRI will reflect what she "wants" to see and there would be no issues in proceeding with this plan. I simply said "ok". I think this shocked her and honestly it shocked me - I couldn't believe I just said "ok - sounds good". I obviously had many questions which she answered. Once we hung up she was going to call Dr Heyer to explain before my appt at 9:15.

9:15am - Well, it was actually like 9:30 because I got stuff in traffic. You have to love NOVA traffic - ugh!
Kwiatek accompanied me to my visit to take notes and more importantly catch me if I really do faint or have a class act meltdown. Dr Heyer entered the room and immediately asked if I spoke to Dr Chiantella and I said, "Yes" and asked "What do you think?". I held my breath and crossed my fingers - he agreed. I thanked the Lord above.

We had a great appointment. He pretty much apologized for the scaring the living crap out of me a few weeks ago because that was not his intention - it was supposed to be a good appointment, but he knew it was not going so well by my reaction (I'm really not sure what gave it away).

Anyhow, Kwiatek and I bombarded him with questions and he answered every single one of them without hesitation. I explained my uneasiness about not removing the other breast and he explained -

1) Removing the other breast does not increase life span
2) It's usually an emotional decision than a medical decision because the woman just wants it to be done with and behind her
3) Cosmetic

My risk of developing cancer in the other breast is low, but he told me since I will be monitered very closely that if something did pop up then it can be taken care of quickly. Ok - well that makes sense...never thought about that.

He emphasized that his job is to think of the worst..not saying it is going to happen but he has to think that way. I truly understand this reasoning, but it still doesn't make it any easier to hear it.

I brought up the idea of low dosage chemotherapy and told him I will do it. He replied that he didn't even confirm I needed it. I told him it's ok - just give it to me. I would feel better. He didn't agree. What he means by low dosage of chemotherapy is this..

When someone receives chemo for treatment then usually it's more than one type of chemotherapy. For example, I had taxotere and carboplatin. He was thinking that it would be wise and the right choice to give me taxotere as a maintenance drug. It would be weekly for 3 weeks and then 1 week off. I ask - what are the side effects he briefly spoke about. He said with taxotere it's primarily ugly nails. Maybe fatigue but that is hard to gauge. It does not affect my hair follicles, so I will still have hair.  Really the issue is it wears people down - mentally. I ask how will he ever know if I am in remission and he said that I am in remission, now and it very well could stay like this but again - he nor anyone else could say for certain. He told me that we aren't at the point yet to discuss a low dosage of chemo because he wants to know my MRI results and then pathology report because all this will determine next steps.

We left this time laughing - I apologized for overreacting, but I was a woman and it's expected we get all emotional. He should understand. He agreed and said men are so much easier to deal with because they just nod their head and pretty much agree with anything.

At this point, I am waiting on my MRI to be scheduled. Dr Chiantella needs to speak to my insurance company. Hopefully, it's this week to allow her time to review and analyze before surgery next week. I did have Laurie, breast care nurse navigator, from the hospital call me on Tuesday to just talk and let me know she was in the meeting that morning to which she said was one of the more interesting meetings ever. I should be at ease knowing all agreed and had my best interest at heart. She said a lumpectomy doesn't require an overnight stay and a lot of people do great the day after. I would probably only have 1 - 2 weeks recovery time. I admittedly was looking forward to 6 weeks off from work only because I had a lot planned during my down time, but hell - I am NOT complaining.

In summary, I'm assuming my intuition was leading me down the right path all along. I was struggling with a decision because maybe I knew or God was telling me there is a better plan. If I weren't persistent and stubborn then I would still be making myself sick with worry and undecided.

I'll keep everyone updated :)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


I know it's been awhile since I posted and I apologize. I was going to write a summary email of all my Dr appointments and next steps but right now everything is in limbo (kinda).

My last round of chemo was the beginning of May 23rd. Once I received the results of my PET, my oncologist, Dr. Heyer, said the next steps were to speak to my breast surgeon. On May 9th, I had my appointment with Dr. Chiantella. The meeting went very very well. She explained I have been a topic of discussion over the past week. In a nutshell, she said there wasn't a "medical recommendation" for surgery and it's going to boil down to being an emotional decision for me. We started off the meeting with Dr. Chiantella asking "what do YOU want". I immediately explained that I wanted a double mastecomy. She nodded her head and explained the risk of cancer occuring in my other breast is very low. I did not know that if I did get cancer in the other breast that it would more than likely be a "new" breast cancer. In any event, this news really did not sway my mind. Dr Chiantella provided more statistics and information on the different surgeries available to me. Her only concern was that I have a one year old at home and I can not lift her for about 4-6 weeks. I understand her concern, but I will make it work. I have Christian, family, and friends who are here to help me when needed. I can work it out for 6 weeks or so.  In addition, she recommended a sentinal node biopsy to confirm if microscopic cancer cells exist in my lymph nodes. If so, I will need radiation. She explained recent research shows a full node dissection does not make a difference in the risk of reoccurance, so she does not recommend this option. Also, a woman who undergoes full node dissection does risk the occurance of developing lymphadema. I told Dr. Chinatell that I was scared and this is why I am being aggressive in my decision (Stage IV and Triple Negative). She told me she understands, but for me to understand the chances of reoccurance are rare given my response to the chemotherapy. We also discussedd the option for nipple reattachment and it's risk. Also, she mentioned she will be removing my mediport. The mention of removing my mediport really affected me. It appears I have grown emotionally attached to it... Once again, Dr Chaintella was vey supportive and said she will keep it there until I get my implants and then she is removing it. I left the appointment with a decision to make and the instructions to speak to my plastic surgeon who will give me more advice to help with my decision.

The following week, I met with my plastic surgeon, Wendy Gottlieb. Another amazing person who is part of my medical team. She understood why I am opting for a full mastecomy and explained the different procedures available to me. I never knew there are so many options...WOW! I really would explain it to everyone, but my mind spins thinking about it. I chose the option that takes the longest recovery. Yes, I know this is unheard of for those who really know me as I am impatient and want everything done right now; However, my gut was telling me.."Jennifer, don't rush this". Perhaps it was all these diagrams and details that really drove home the fact how serious this surgery is that made me step back and say - just take it slow. In any event, the entire reconstruction will take approximately a year. The timeline follows:

1) Expanders inserted during mastecomy surgery.
2) Wait a couple weeks and then will begin the "fill" process. They "fill" the expanders until we get to the desired size. This can take up to 3 months for many different reasons.
3) Implants Inserted. Wait 3 months
4) Nipples Reconstructed (I didn't opt to keep my nipples due to the 1/2 percent increase in risk of reoccurance). Wait 3 months
5) Aerolas Tattoo. This can take 3 months.

So, Everyone. It's not that a woman has a mastecomy and just wakes up with a new set of's NOT that easy, unfortunately.

Another option is something called Flap surgery. This would be about 6-9 months, but there are many other things to consider like a scar on my back. While she explained it would be small, I asked for pictures and it's not small. Some of these things seem monsterous and I just don't want to keep scarring up my body for no reason. Also, the risk of infection increases with this surgery. Another thing that sticks in my mind is what they do..they take a back muscle and pull it through your front breast to make the nipple. I THINK I got that right, but my mind was really swarming at that point. The thought of a back muscle being pulled through the front of my body really made me grimace...screw that.

After both of these appointments, my surgery is scheduled for June 28th.

Now...last week I had my first follow-up appointment with the oncologist, Dr Heyer. I was not looking forward to this meeting and now I know why...I went to the appointment by myself as my friend had to attend a last minute meeting. Dr Heyer (as many if not all oncologists) just aren't the most emotional people which I totally get..He sat down and explained to me that he has spoke to Dr Chinatella and has been told that I am opting for a double mastecomy. He tells me that he has thought long and hard about this and doesn't agree. He tells me the risk of developing cancer in the other breast is very low (We know this, but the fear is still there. My chance of getting this dreadful disease was low, too). However, my chance of getting an infection is great. Why increase my risk of infection by a double mastecomy when it's not needed. The reason why he is concerned is...If the cancer returns and I am battling an infection of some sort then he can't treat me. It appears infections you can get during/post surgery are brutal and are not a typical give you  a 30 day antibiotic and it's done. These infections can be deadly and last for a long time. If my cancer returns and I have an infection then it very well could be months before I am able to receive chemotherapy. Cancer and waiting months for treatment can obviously be a recipe for disaster. While he is trying to explain himself, I only hear him saying the cancer is going to come back. I focus only on this while trying very hard to listen closely to him while also telling him "I am not going to pass out".  He also said he doesn't agree with just a sentinal node biopsy. I did have infected lymph nodes and he feels I just need to get them out. Not risk more than I should. He continues to explain that we can't discount the fact this was in my lungs "Although it was miniscule and we know it didn't (he used some word that I can't remember but he was saying multiply and spread) can still very well spread somewhere else. Also, since I am triple negative there is no maintenance drugs available to me. I only have chemotherapy. He said he will talk to Dr Chiantella again and she will call me. I left the appt and went straight to my acupuncture appointment (Thank goodness) and had a damn near breakdown. I sat and talked with Dr Durana, acupuncturist, for at least a half hour. In his attempt to calm me down and get me to think clearly, he tried to explain that he thinks I am overanalyzing what Dr Heyer is saying. He is probably not saying that he is certain it's going to come back,  but to understand it's his job to think this way. He has to be strategic. He has to think ahead and think of the worst. I agreed, but it doesn't make me feel any better. I have a hard time understanding how it appears Dr Chiantella and Dr Heyer, who are in constant discussion about my case, seem to be on the same page, but I feel I am getting 2 different messages. In retrospect, I understand better where he is coming from. He did agree with all of Dr Chiantella's statistics and words that I was spitting out to him like a wild woman. "Well, Dr Chinatella said this and Dr Chiantella said that". "I really don't like talking to you...OMG. I am not going to pass out. I promise"...He also said at the end that we could always entertain the idea of a very low dosage of chemo for maintenance purposes. This has been suggested to me before as this is the normal process for Stage IV diagnosis (ongoing chemo, not exactly low dosage though). Although, it wont be considered treatment, but more of a maintenance drug. I do know a woman who receives a low dosage of chemo for years now to manage rheumatoid arthritis. She still has hair, full of energy, etc..She said she takes it to maintain the arthritis and gets it every 2 weeks. Obviously, we didn't go into detail about this. He said first we need to get this surgery underway and take a look at the lymph nodes. While I am clinically clear of cancer, I still need my pathology reports to come back clear - that is key. He assures me there is a lot of positive news, but at that point I wasn't hearing it.  In a nutshell, he recommends a partial mastecomy and full lymph node dissection. Also, he wanted to get the surgery moved up a week. No need to wait 5 weeks after chemo. you can see. A lot has been going on. I expect a call from my surgeon tomorrow. She had her bi-weekly meeting with all the Drs to discuss topics and patients today.

I will keep everyone updated when I hear more and make a decision. Right now, I am leaning toward what Dr Heyer recommends. I am going to replay the conversation with Dr Chiantella when I speak to her to be sure I understand everything since I have a clearer mind. I will keep everyone updated!

Please continue to pray.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


PET Scan Results....CLEAR OF CANCER. "Jennifer, you were right. It's gone. Your body is clear of cancer. Lung Nodules - Clear. Lesions - Clear. Lymph Nodes - Clear. Breast -Clear. There is no evidence of cancer."

Needless to say, I am blessed. I am beyond ecstatic. I am still processing. We still will proceed with the last chemo on May 23rd. I have an appointment with my Breast Surgeon on the 16th... I was advised to wait on making an appointment with the Plastic Surgeon until Dr. Heyer and Dr. Chiantella speak, she reviews my Pet scan, and until our appointment on the 16th.

A special thank you to everyone who has helped me, prayed for me and continued to give your endless support and love. Miracles do happen.

On a separate note, I did have chemo #5 yesterday and am feeling fine thus far. I assume my potassium levels are back to normal (it was due to the flu) as they were going to check the levels to confirm. I hope these great response to chemo continues.  My last chemo is scheduled for May 23rd.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank all of you and will keep you updated on continued progress.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Oncologist Follow-Up

Today, I had my follow-up with Dr. Heyer so he could examine the tumor progress.

This past week our entire household fell victim to the flu bug. While Camilla and Christian experienced 24-48 hours of symptons, I was lucky enough to have at least one sympton for 6 straight days. Needless to say, the past week totally sucked; However, I was finally 100% today which was a GLORIOUS feeling.

I told the nurse about the flu as I wanted to have my bloodwork done. Although, it turns out I don't think it would have affected my bloodwork, anyhow. Needless to say, she obliged to just make me happy - I guess (and make another "cuckoo" notation on my file). As he suspected, bloodwork great :)

The Appointment -

Dr Heyer entered the room smiling and asked how I was since he heard I had the flu. I think he was primarily concerned this was in fact the flu and not the chemo. Once he heard everyone in the house experienced it he then breathed a sigh of relief and said "Thank goodness, I didn't cause any of that". I assured him he didn't, but if I suspected chemo was the culprit then we would need to have a heart-to-heart.

He was excited to tell me that he took the liberty to go ahead and talk to my breast surgeon, Dr. Chiantella. Due to the response in only 2 treatments of chemotherapy (At this point, he has yet to examine me), they both agreed a PET scan should be ordered prior to Chemo #5. I got a little giddy with him and then he was like..."Well....I want to check you first to see if there is progress". It depends..." He kept flip-flopping. So, I told him that I think there has been progress and he needs to just check me because if I press very hard from the front and smush it in a hard manner then I still can barely feel anything, but I don't know what I am feeling at this point (You can only imagine the look I received from him, but rest assured it is completely safe to man handle myself like this - he said it was ok, MOM and KWIATEK. I am not hurting anything).

Dr. Heyer felt my lymph nodes in my neck first (which I still don't understand this, but am sure there is a reason) and then asked me to lay down. Thinking back, I think I actually throw my gown open and let the girls show in all their glory. I don't think this is proper dr/patient protocol, but I don't care (I actually am chuckling to myself wondering what goes through this guys head when I do something probably considered extremely inappropriate in many people's minds). Needless to say, I am not there to waste anymore time than need be. I want his opinion - STAT :O

He examined both breasts this time then up and around the armpit area (I had no enlarged lymph nodes or tumor in that area), then up the breast where the tumor could be felt, and close to my sternum. He also took out his stethescope and listened to something (What - I have no idea what he could hear by listening to "the girls", but again I know there is a reason). He then smiled and said "I need to be honest here. If I had no idea what this felt like before then whatever I feel right now..I would say it's a cyst" and he shakes his head. I ask him "Is it the tumor you feel or a cyst?". He replies "I could never answer that. This is why we need a PET scan to tell me if there are any active cancer cells left".

He proceeds to tell me he is certainly ordering a PET scan for April 30th. The Monday prior to my next chemo, May 2nd. He should have the results by then and I need to call Dr. Chiantella to schedule an appointment with her soon. The purpose of the PET scan is to re-evaluate everything. There is a drastic difference and it appears Dr. Chaintella needs a new scan at this point to review lymph nodes and chest wall involvement. They both want to be sure if any active cancer exists at this point then for surgery purposes, she can be sure to target those specific areas. I suppose that after 2 more rounds of chemo the odds may be slimmer any active cancer cells exist and she wouldn't have a more focused plan of attack for surgery purposes.  Also, she may order a MRI for more details on the lymph nodes and depth perception (I guess the tumor and chest wall area). He concluded " I will not be the least bit surprised this PET scan comes back and reflects zero negative. Wouldn't that be great news?" I smiled and told him that would be the greatest news ever.

I have to share another awesome quote from today. I called my Grandmother to share the news. For those of you who have the pleasure of knowing her - she is quite an unforgettable woman who certainly has no problem sharing her opinions or outlooks on life. Simply she can be quite a tough lil' lady on all levels. Grandma's quote of the day "Jennifer, you and I aren't normal. You understand me? We just aren't. So, this really doesn't surprise me one bit".


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Chemo #4

Hi Everyone,

I wanted to provide an update on chemo #4, which was today.

Everything went fine and according to plan. My blood work was good, but my white blood count was up a little, which was probably due to my sinus infection. The nurse was not concerned and I was still able to receive treatment. 

Regarding side effects, I have not experienced anything as of yet and pray this continues.

Tomorrow, as usual, I go for my Neulasta shot and next week I see Dr. Heyer so he can check progress on the tumor. I have had a few people feel the lump and they confirm there is a difference over the past few weeks. At this point, you need to press directly into the breast from the front and into the back chest wall to feel anything. (Kwiatek and Mom just about smacked me when I was pulling and tugging to feel what is left of the lump.) Kwiatek did explain that what I am now feeling could be scar tissue from the tumor, lung and lymph node biopsies, which we feel along with normal breast tissue, etc. In any event, it's quite small in comparison to the size of the initial tumor.

Next week, I pray for another wonderful appointment with Dr. Heyer containing great and promising news.

Today, I received my schedule for the remaining two chemo treatments. The last one will be Wednesday, May 23 and then I will have another PET Scan, so he can re-stage me. I will then meet with my breast surgeon, Dr. Chiantella, to get her opinion on next steps. I still need to find a plastic surgeon and radiation oncologist. However, I am going to ask Dr. Heyer and Dr. Chiantella their opinions and/or references. I will then of course, research, research, research. :)

Thank you for the continued support and prayers.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

All's Going Well....

Hi Everyone,

I wanted to give a quick update as many are wondering how I am doing. Well, I am happy to say all is still going well and I pray this continues. My fourth round of chemo is scheduled for next Wednesday then only two more to go.

I did get a cold last week which has turned into a sinus infection. I usually get sinus infections during this time of year, so it's nothing uncommon. I called Jessica, Dr. Heyer's PA, and told her about it. She called in an antibiotic for me. I have taken three pills and already feel a lot better.

Of course, I religiously see Dr. Durana, my acupuncturist, twice a week. We have been doing different things and talking a lot more. A few weeks ago, we had a deep conversation about my past since a point in my body triggered physical pain. It appears this point holds many emotions - specifically trust issues. Needless to say, it was an intense session. On Tuesday, Carlos did yell at me. I have been sick and so has Camilla so I was tired, but I honestly do not feel I am overexerting myself. Anyhow, I fell asleep on the table and started snoring (snicker all you want). A couple of things to note here:
  1. I am NOT a snorer, but I was very congested.
  2. I only woke up because of my snoring.
When I woke up, I tried to play it off and hoped he didn't notice. Perhaps I had only imagined that I was snoring. He said nothing until at the end when he pointed at me and said "YOU need to rest." I was a bit stunned and then he started his "talk." I was honest with him about how I felt that I haven't been my normal "110% - GO GO GO IT'S TAX SEASON AND I ONLY GET LITERALLY 2 HOURS OF SLEEP A NIGHT" self but did confess I hadn't slept well because I have had a lot on my mind and ran down the list
  1. I thought it was a great idea to tear up my back deck and now I have a mud pit in my backyard and have no idea what to do and I am stressed on many levels - such as "How the heck do I grade dirt?" "How the heck am I ever going to get dirt in the backyard?" even more "How in the heck do I measure how much dirt I need?" "What the heck am I going to plant?" "What the heck is that concrete block there for?"and the list goes on ...
  2. Camilla's birthday is quickly approaching and she will be one. I told myself when I started planning the details of her party that I was not going to be my normal type A detailed self.Yes, that lasted literally two minutes. I turned into my normal spreadsheet whore and went to town. Also, I decided that I was indeed crafty and will be making all kinds of things for her birthday party. If you know me well..I am not crafty. I have never done a craft in my life, but that is going to change everyone. I have plans to become Martha Stewart overnight. ;)
  3. I am a tax accountant and this is my busy time of year. Ernst & Young, my employer, has been UNBELIEVABLY understanding. However, I still have work to do!!! I am not stressed about work, but it is on my mind.
  4. Camilla has had a chronic ear infection since mid-February and, obviously, this worries me. I want her to feel better and don't want her to have surgery for tubes. We are being referred to an ENT doctor to see what he/she recommends. 
  5. Cancer. Enough said.
On a separate note, I do want to personally say thank you to everyone that has helped me by praying, sending meals, visiting, sending cards, donating to the fundraisers or assisting with the fundraisers. 

I am NOT one to ask for help as it is usually me helping others. Recently, my family and friends have started multiple fundraisers for me out of the goodness of their heart. I don't request these things, but it's their way of helping. Needless to say, the response is overwhelming. I do contemplate and stress how I can ever repay all these people. I've been told by many that it is not expected ... people want to help. I understand this as if the shoe was on the other foot, then I would be there helping as much as I can. Most recently, my family and friends are organizing a fundraiser in West Virginia on May 18th. I literally cannot wrap my head around the number of people that have asked to help or have bought tickets to attend the event. We have literally sold 400 tickets at this point. We only started spreading the word last weekend! I am beside myself ... 400 tickets all because of me? It's crazy. I could go on and on and on and on ... thanking everyone personally. Besides doing that and boring everyone to tears, I want to say...

Thank you to each and every one of you that has been there for me throughout my journey. Whether it be prayers, a meal, an ear, a post, a phone call, an uplifting moment, assistance with a fundraiser, a monetary donation ... just being there. I am utterly and truly grateful. 

On that note, good night and much love to all.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Chemo #3: Halfway There

Just a quick update, I had my third chemotherapy treatment today and everything went well! I'm halfway through!!! My blood work looked good, which is always great news. The only issue was that the pump that administers my chemotherapy medicine stopped working, so I was not getting chemo and had no idea. Needless to say, my treatment was delayed by 30 minutes. Other than that, physically I feel fine so far.

Over the past few weeks, I have had no complaints. There were slight issues which I felt dumb even asking about, but per Dr. Heyer's instructions, he insists on knowing everything that happens and changes with my body.

  1. My allergies had been bothering me which is normal during this time of the year. My ears had gotten very clogged and I felt like I was talking in my head. Similar to how your ears feel when you are flying in a plane. It turns out that chemotherapy can affect the ears, since you lose the hair in your nose and ears. Drainage can just lay there in the ear canal causing clogged ears, just like a clogged drain in your bathroom sink. Interesting, huh? I was instructed by the PA to take Sudafed, but the following day I felt 95% better, so I didn't take anything. The PA was not in the office today, so she wasn't able to check my ears to be sure they weren't infected. My WBC didn't indicate any further infections, so I don't think there is any cause for alarm.
  2. I have this little spot on my face next to my left eye. It is the same spot I got when I was eight months pregnant. The nurse said this is normal as chemo has a habit of turning up past health issues or ailments. She told me this is hormone-related and will go away after chemo. 
  3. My sternum was a little achy the past few days. It hasn't been that bad today. I've been told in the past this could be caused by my Neulasta shot, but it's been almost three weeks after my last shot, so this cannot be the cause. After my first treatment, I had the same discomfort and was told if the tumor is being affected it can cause discomfort in that area due to the tumor location. I pray this is the case because that means the tumor is continuing to shrink.

These side effects are so minimal that I don't dare complain. I am thankful my body is fairing well with this treatment and pray it continues.

Thank you, everyone, for your continued prayers and support!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

How YOU Can Help

(written by Chrystal Tan)

Many of you have asked how you can help Jennifer and her family through her journey and many of you have already stepped up and helped her in so many ways.

She has enjoyed fabulous meals, loving chemo care packages, books, magazines, and so many thoughtful cards and gifts. Amidst all of the awful things Jennifer has encountered through her journey she has also seen countless displays of friendship, love and generosity from those that surround her. These are the small things that have helped make this fight more bearable. So thank you to each and every one of you for your thoughtfulness and generosity.

Jennifer has seen great success so far in her treatment, but unfortunately this all comes at a cost. Even with insurance, Jennifer has begun to amass a mound of medical bills. Co-payments and items not covered or only partially covered by insurance (such as wigs, acupuncture, certain medications) have started to add up. It is estimated that her portion of medical costs from this Journey will be in the range of $10,000.

We invite you to help Jennifer fund some of these costs by donating to her medical expense fundraiser. Please consider making a donation – no matter how big or how small. Every penny counts and Jennifer is grateful for your kindness and generosity.

Donating is easy – Click on the “Donate” button below and make a donation to Jennifer’s cause. Funds raised will be used to help cover Jennifer’s out of pocket medical expenses.

In addition, Jennifer’s Lotsa Helping Hands website remains open and active! Please continue to sign up to provide dinners to the family if you are willing and able.

New members can sign up to help Jennifer at the following website:

Fill in the right side of the form which is a Request to Join the Community. Once I have approved your registration you will be automatically added to the community and sent instructions for setting a password and signing in to help.

Lastly, Jennifer asks for your continued prayers as she continues her courageous journey.

Please feel free to pass this message on to others who may wish to help Jennifer and her family on their journey and thank you for all you have done for Jennifer, Christian, and Camilla.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

ThirtyOne Fundraiser

(written by Dawn Markley)

Friends, please support "Not Jenn's Cup of Tea" Fundraiser in her fight against breast cancer. Buy a URU 31 thermal tote and 25% of the proceeds will go to Jenn and $1.00 will go to foundations to support empowerment of women and girls. The thermal tote is $16 and can be monogrammed for an additional $7. Order through April 20 (Camilla's birthday)!! Ships direct and makes a great gift!

For more information visit:

If you have any questions, please contact Dawn Markley at

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Three Thumbs Up

Emu Tree
Today, I had my first follow-up appointment with my oncologist, Dr. David Heyer, so he could check the progress of the tumor.

Before examining me, he asked if I thought there was any progress in the tumor shrinkage and I replied "Yes, I am pretty sure there is a big difference." I hopped on the table and he began feeling the left breast.

Dr Heyer: "Hmm... wow... OMG... big difference... wow..."
Jennifer: "There is a difference, right?"
Dr Heyer: "Yes, significant difference, Jennifer"
He continued feeling all around, at all angles, and shaking his head in disbelief.
Jennifer: "Can you show me where the actual location of the tumor is because I'm not so sure."

He placed his hand on my hand and pressed deeply on the far right side of my left breast directly against the sternum.

Jennifer: "You know, I will be honest, I don't know if I would have ever felt this lump during my monthly exam."
Dr Heyer: "You wouldn't have."

I contemplated this for a few seconds and took a deep breath. This could have been so much worse if I did not give birth to Camilla, if I didn't breast feed... my baby truly saved my life in more ways than one.

One of my best friends, Amy, went to the appointment with me. She is in the medical field and started to ask specific questions.

Amy: "Do you expect this type of progress based on a second treatment?"
Dr Heyer: "Absolutely not. This much progress is remarkable."

I also had several questions to ask:
  1. What if the lung nodules continue to grow during chemo and we aren't aware they are growing? Dr. Heyer said there is a 0% chance this would happen, even though he said he should never say 0%. His hopes are that the nodules are killed off by chemo due to their small size. If for some reason the nodules were resistant (which is slim) they would remain the same and not grow.  
  2. How do you think the cancer reached the lung nodules? I had my own opinions after looking over my medical records. My radiologist, pathologist and breast surgeon confirmed my lymph nodes appeared to be contained. My idea was that the lymph nodes appeared due to local metastasis, which is when a tumor was aggressive enough to force through cell walls. Dr. Heyer said he thinks the tumor literally sidetracked and got into the lung lymph node, which created the nodules. He doesn't believe it spread via the systemic lymph nodes (it's the highway of the body which is a very good thing). However, there are lymph nodes that go directly to an organ and the tumor penetrated the lung lymph node.
  3. Chemo - He considered minimizing the number of chemo treatments left and schedule surgery sooner; however, after a couple minutes of deliberation he decided we will stick to our original plan. He wants to see me again after two more sessions and will only do a PETscan after my last treatment to "restage" me. We will then discuss surgery and radiation.
  4. AC vs. Taxotere/Carboplatin - I asked why he ultimately switch from AC to the current chemo plan. He explained he does not like to give the drug Adriamycin to young women due to the risk of heart issues post treatment. He said, "I compared you to a 68-year-old woman with cancer. Why would I want to give a 35-year-old woman a treatment risking heart problems for the rest of her life?" Point taken.
  5. Turkey Tail Mushrooms - OK. I am obsessed with this new study about the benefit of turkey tail mushrooms. I initially asked him, "So, what are your thoughts on turkey tail... and he looked bewildered. Amy then interjected, "It's a mushroom." He said, he is not opposed to things like this if I want to try them, but that I am not to try them during chemo because it could be toxic when mixed together. He explained all chemo drugs are a derivative of a plant or tree and the specific chemo I am on comes from the bark of an emu tree, so if I want to go eat some bark ... (what a funny guy, he is). I asked where I could get an emu tree because I WILL eat bark, if necessary ;) I really don't think this surprised him one bit. Anyhow, he said that I can take the turkey tail mushroom supplement if I choose, but after chemo. I promised.
  6. Side Effects - I have yet to have any significant side effects from chemo. He was quite happy to hear this and joked he made the girls out front (his nursing staff) promise not to make me sick or they would need to answer to him (again, he is such a funny man).
  7. Tumor Marking - Tumor marking is done by blood work and used to manage cancer patients. I asked his thoughts on tumor marking. He said he doesn't prefer tumor marking because it is not completely accurate and causes a lot of unnecessary anxiety. He prefers to scan which I will have done every three months.
Overall, Dr Heyer said if he had three thumbs he would give me three thumbs up! The news he gave me today was better than he would have ever dreamed of giving. Before he left, I asked if I could give him a big hug and he said of course - he left grinning ear-to-ear and finally said the words I needed to hear, "I think everything is going to be OK."

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

UPDATE: Chemo #2

Hi Friends! Kwiatek here.

Just letting you know that our little Lara Croft kicked butt today at chemo #2. She is now a third of the way through her chemo schedule. She was excited about the rain this morning ... it has now rained for both of her chemo treatments and she LOVES rain, just like I do. (I know, we're weird.)

Her red blood count is slowly declining, which the nurse assured her is perfectly normal. She is around 3.something and the nurse said only if it drops to like .8 would they consider a blood transfusion. So, her blood work is good, just declining as expected. Jenn was initially alarmed as she mapped the decline over the past three blood tests, but was reassured by the nurse and content with the news.

She had no issues today, other than getting some of her pre-chemo medication confused. It's a lot of medicine to try and remember (steroid, nausea, allergy prevention, numbing cream, etc.), so she spent some time early on in her chemo session this morning analyzing her medication calendar and figuring out a better process. That's our Jenn ... gotta love her.

She is home resting comfortably and loves and appreciates all of you who have been continuing to send warm wishes and prayers. She is feeling the love and knows you are helping give her strength to fight and beat this cancer.

Tumor Be Gone

I am pleased to say there is a noticeable difference in the tumor size after only one treatment. My oncologist has not confirmed this as he does not examine the area until after the second treatment which is when a difference in the breast normally appears.

However, I have had every individual that has felt the tumor prior to chemo "man handle" me to confirm the difference as I wanted to be sure my mind was not playing tricks on me.

In addition, I have asked Dr. Durana, the acupuncturist, if he could "see" a difference and he replied, "Sure, I will take a look."

Last week, he confirmed the tumor does appear smaller. It's not as "thick and wide." Yesterday, I asked him to "look" again and he said it appears even smaller. He also notes a burning sensation. Neither of us are quite sure what chemotherapy really does to a tumor, but maybe it disintegrates the tumor which is why I am now literally a "Hot Mess!"

This is THE BEST NEWS! I am so thankful for all my family and friends who are praying for me. Prayer is Powerful. I am convinced.

Today, is my second chemo treatment, so off I go!

BRCA Results Are In!

Negative!!!!! My BRCA results are negative which is FABULOUS news!
This is a genetic test I opted for several reasons.

1) My Daughter. I wanted to be sure this is not hereditary.
2) If a woman does have the BRCA genes then her chance of reoccurance is greater.
3) If a woman does have the BRCA genes then her chance of developing ovarian cancer is significant. Some women are advised to have their ovaries removed.

Based on the above, I am thankful for the results. Small Victories.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

My Little G.I. Jane

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

This past Sunday, Kwiatek hosted a "shave party" at her home for me and a few of my closest friends. When I woke up that morning, it was evident I was dreading this day more than I really knew. To put it bluntly, Sunday was devastating. I was in a funk since Friday which was initiated by a doctors appointment that didn't go badly, but just reinforced the fact I have breast cancer and will need to "manage" it for the rest of my life. On a better note, Jessica, the PA, was tickled I did well after my first chemo treatment and pleased with my blood work from that day.

It was my idea to cut my hair before it started to fall out. I knew that I could not emotionally handle having my long, thick hair fall out in clumps, so I decided to take control. I will be honest, I almost backed out literally a thousand times but I knew in my heart and soul, I had to do this. I had to gather the strength, courage, and pride to let it go. Let my hair go, let my emotions go, just let it all go...

Below is an entry from Kwiatek's personal blog about the shave party. As she is truly a talented writer, her words captured what transpired that day. Also, a personal thank you to Matt Voshell, Kwiatek's fiance, who captured these powerful photographs.

My Little G.I. Jane 

Today was the day I had been grasping for the courage to make it through. Today was Jenn's brunch/shave party. She had made the decision to shave her head before cancer took it from her. She believed it would be much too emotional to watch it fall out. She didn't want to do the cutting in her home, so I opened my house to her and five of her closest girl friends. Jenn had agreed to let Matt photograph the brunch in order to document this moment in her journey, so he was also in attendance. The girls arrived at 11am (Jennifer Lewis, Lola Han, Susan Ernst, Chanda Keesecker, Joanna Harris) with food in hand and a brave smile on their faces. They knew in their hearts that today would be tough.

Jenn arrived with one of her closest friends Chanda who several years ago, attended my Pink Martini Night fundraiser in D.C. to support my journey. Jenn was anxious and her stomach had been acting up. We all sat, ate and got a mimosa in our systems. We talked about kids, music, Jasper in his cute little pink shirt for his Aunt Jenn and everything except the reason why we were there.

I was sitting on the floor with Jenn in front of me. My jaw tightened ... I knew what was coming next. OMG, I'm going to have a panic attack in front of everyone, right here in my living room. Just as it began building inside me, Jenn said, "OK, let's get going." I snapped out of the internal spiral and moved into action.

Jenn sat on the hassock while I tied her hair into ponytails all over her head. Her hair is so thick that we had 10 ponytails total. Susan and I then began braiding all the ponytails. Jenn had decided that if her hair was long enough, she wanted to donate it. This is how the organizations prefer you send the hair to them.

Once the braided ponytails were in place, we moved into the bathroom.

me: "OK, are you ready?" 

Jenn: "Yes, just cut it." 
me: "Do you want to cut the first one?" 
Jenn: "No." 
me: "OK, sugar. Take a deep breath."

I cut the first braid, kissed Jenn on the cheek, hugged her and told her that I loved her. I said, "You're being so brave. It's OK to cry."

Next was Chanda, she cut the second braid and Jenn began to cry. The process was overwhelming and surreal for Jenn, but despite the tears we kept moving. Each girl took a braid, cut it and then loved on Jenn. After they moved through the bathroom, they met each other in the living room and hugged while crying and comforting one another. I cried. I didn't cry because I was recalling my own experience when I shaved my head, but because I genuinely hurt for one of my best friends. And I knew EXACTLY how she was feeling. My heart ached hearing her whimpers, but I knew we had to push through it and once her hair was gone she would feel a sense of relief.

Once all the braids were gone, the tears had passed. I took out the little pink Wahl Pink Peanut clippers I purchased for Jenn and we trimmed her hair with the 1/2 inch cutting guide. She sat silently as I ran the clippers over her head. I was trying to do it as quickly as I could, but you have to move the clippers slowly, otherwise they don't have a chance to cut. Within 15 minutes, Jenn's hair was gone. I took the braids and stacked them on the sink. I saw Jenn look at them and at herself quickly in the mirror. It will take time before she will look in the mirror and recognize herself. I took the towel with all the hair collected and shook it on my balcony. That way she didn't have to deal with the anxiety of seeing it on the floor or in the sink. Hopefully the neighborhood birds and bunnies will be able to use the hair for their homes.

We had a group hug and then the girls wanted to play with Jenn's scarves and wig. Jenn was a new woman. She sat on the floor in the living room while the girls surrounded her and helped her learn how to tie her head scarves. She looked emotionally drained, but relieved that this was over. We ate cupcakes, had another round of mimosas and enjoyed the remainder of our time together.

Once everyone had left, I cleaned the bathroom. The ten braids sat on the bathroom sink. I measured them and seven were long enough (nine inches) to donate to Pantene Beautiful Lengths. I kissed each one and placed them gently in a Ziplock bag and then a padded envelope.

Matt and I looked through the photos from the day and once again I was moved to tears. I wasn't crying because I was sad, but because I was so proud of Jenn and moved by the love and support of Jenn's friends. I know she will get through this on the wings of her angels.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Head Case

Today, I woke up with a massive headache due to the weather change. Therefore, I was anxiously awaiting my appointment with Dr. Carlos Durana hoping acupuncture would give me some relief.

He asked how I was and I mentioned my headache. He replied, "I can see you are not feeling well. Is the headache on your left side." I nodded and replied, "Yes."

He wanted to focus on my head today for many reasons, but not limited to trying to ease my headache. It appears, everyone holds their tension/emotions in one part of their body. For me, it's a place under my skull on the left-hand side. Today, he inserted so many needles into my face that I am sure I was the epitome of a pinhead, but I really didn't care. My head was throbbing and I was pleading to the gods to please let this session offer me some relief.

Usually when he hits the "point" with his needle, I experience a tingle or sometimes an explosion of feeling. I really can't describe it. However, this time – every single point he hit in my head and face simply hurt. He asked me before we began working on my breathing if I felt emotional today and I replied, "No, not at all" and closed my eyes to start my meditation. He was talking about visualization and how we are going to start focusing on this next week as it is a critical step in the healing process especially when dealing with cancer. I agreed as I have been told by many individuals it's such an important task to visualize the cancer being killed – hence our continual nod to Lara Croft. *bam bam*

Then things started to get crazy ...

Dr. Durana:  "Are you spiritual?"
Jennifer:  "Well, I am not over-the-top religious and that is because I think religion was beat into my head while going to a Catholic School almost all my life, but I do believe in God. I just have a lot of questions, but that is typical of me. I DO pray all the time."
Dr. Durana:  "Ok. Good, so you do pray. Well, whoever or whatever you pray to then ask to let the Spirit be with you."
Jennifer:  "Umm... OK"

I begin to breathe. As I inhaled, I would tell myself "peace" or "heal" and as I exhaled "Let the spirit be with me" repeatedly. After 3-4 deep breaths, I sensed this surge of emotion very similar to what happened on my second session. My eyes are closed, but tears were building and building and then begin to pour. I was sobbing, gasping for breath. However, I was still lying there.

Jennifer:  "What is happening? OMG. What is happening?"
Dr. Durana:  "Jennifer, I sense sadness. There is something wanting to come in. I don't know who or what, but let it in. Breathe. It's OK. I am here. Breathe."

Now, I cannot vividly describe what happened next, but as I lay there with my eyes closed I felt dizzy, but like my mind was in a body of water and I was being jostled back and forth in slow motion. My thoughts were muddled, wavy, blurry...

Jennifer:  "I am dizzy. Why am I dizzy? What the hell is happening?"
Dr. Durana: "This is normal. You are fighting whatever it is .. .stop fighting. Welcome it. Stop fighting. Ground yourself, Jennifer. It will pass. Take Control. Invite it."

I did. A sense of calmness overcame me. The sobbing subsided.

Dr. Durana:  "Good. You are in a safe place. I am going to start working on your head. I need you to keep talking to me and tell me if you have any thoughts, emotions."

He started working on that spot and it felt like it was the size of a golf ball. You know that feeling when it hurts so much, but it feels good at the same time? That's how it felt.

Within seconds, images appeared. I saw my Pappous (my grandfather) looking down on me. I felt a sense of peace. It's like I wanted to reach out and touch his face.

Jennifer:  "My pappous. It's my pappous".
Dr. Durana: 'What are you feeling?"
Jennifer: "Calm."

He continued to dig into the spot and then ...big red letters appear TUMOR

Jennifer:  "Tumor. Tumor. Omg. Do I have a tumor in my head? Is this a tumor? Wait, no. I don't think it's a tumor in my head. That is not what I am thinking. I really don't know why I just envisioned the word tumor in red letters."
Dr. Durana:  "Jennifer, you do not have a tumor in your head. This is tension. We can call it a tension tumor. There are years of emotions balled up in this spot. We just only worked through the first layer of it."

He took his hands from under my head and said he needed to give his hand a rest.

Dr. Durana:  "We will begin working through and identifying these issues. Your family relationships. Your Marriage. Your Miscarriage. Cancer. You have have a lot of emotions stored that you never worked through."

OK. My family and friends know the details about some of my "issues" notated above. They also know my personality of dealing with the situation and then moving on; However, it is becoming very clear that I don't really deal with my issues. I don't get closure. I just store it in this nice little compartment in the back of my skull for a rainy day. Dammit.

As I laid there I wondered what the hell just happened, yet again..

Dr. Durana:  "Your cancer. It's right here."

He encompassed with his hand EXACTLY where the tumor is which is not exactly on my breast, but behind my breast attached to the back chest wall and up my shoulder. I NEVER EVER showed him where it was.

Jennifer:  "How did you know that?"
Dr. Durana:  "I see it."
Jennifer:  "What do you mean you see it?"
Dr. Durana:  "It's my 'third eye.' When I work on you, I can see inside you. Your emotions. I saw your cancer today."

At this point, I was contemplating running out the door because I was really spooked, but I laid there and really tried to understand what I just heard, but then a sadness overcame me.

Jennifer:  "So... the cancer is still there?"
Dr. Durana:  "Jennifer, of course it's still there but it will go away. Chemotherapy will take it away. We just need to give it time."

While I pounded my fist against my breast, I sadly muttered, "I just want it out of me. I want it gone."

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Post Chemo Update

Hi All – I am sorry for the late update, as many of you have been wondering how I’ve been feeling since my first chemo treatment on Wednesday, Feb. 8.

I am happy to report that I’ve been doing very well and have experienced minimal side effects. After Wednesday's chemo, I went back to work and was a bit wired for the rest of the evening due to the steroids. On Thursday, I woke up feeling pretty good and had my Neulasta shot (It boosts my white blood cells.) that afternoon. I hung out with my nurse for a bit talking about our children, constipation, and gripe water (Yes – I know, what an interesting topic). Once the nurse administered the shot, I asked if I would experience any side effects and she said – perhaps “bone pain.” This obviously startled me – I have no idea what “bone pain” feels like…“What?!?! Bone Pain? What does that mean?” She explained as best as she could, but I still wasn’t convinced. After a few seconds of contemplation – I looked at her and said “Well, I’d rather have bone pain than cancer, so it’s OK.” She laughed and we continued with our in-depth conversation about constipated babies.

Some other side effects I’ve experienced:

** Blurry Vision – Thursday, Friday, and early Saturday. It has now subsided.
** Foggy Mind – Friday and early Saturday.
** Lower Back Achiness – Saturday and Sunday. I assume this is what my nurse means by “bone pain.” Well, it’s not bad at all. It just feels like I have a small dose of the flu. Something, I can certainly handle.

On Saturday, my dear friend and Yoga extraordinaire, Kelli, came over. We practiced different yoga techniques and meditation. After our hour long session, I felt 100% better – mentally and physically. (If anyone is interested, I will ask her to write down exactly what Yoga styles we do during each session as they do differ depending on how I feel that day.) This past Saturday, we focused on a lymph node cleansing technique. We were doing back bends, headstands (I’ve never seen someone do such a graceful headstand in my life – she literally looked like a flower blooming. However, I will not comment on what my headstand looked like as there are no words to describe it – “flower” and “blooming” it was not).

At the end of the session, we attempted restorative yoga. I highly recommend this therapeutic style of yoga to anyone who is seeking mind and body relaxation. (If anyone is interested, I have provided the link for Flow Yoga in Leesburg, VA – Please search for Restorative Yoga with Kelli Audibert.)

So far my first treatment has went rather smoothly. I know that I cannot realistically expect the remaining five treatments to be the same, but I can only hope for the best and continually remind myself – this too shall pass.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Work in Progress

When you get a diagnosis of breast cancer, regardless of stage, statistics, survival rates, or whatever else, you are pretty willing to try things you never thought you would. At this point, I will have needles stuck in me, meditate and even place a rock from sacred ground known to heal in the Philippians upon my breast. I’ll do whatever it takes to stay alive for Christian and Camilla.

Friday, Feb. 3: Acupuncture 

I completed two hours of paperwork prior to meeting with Dr. Carlos Durana. The paperwork was emotional. By this, I mean that I not only gave him my medical history, but also shared my marital and family life history. In that section lie several events that I had not worked through, buried emotions that were preventing me from continuing a happy life. This was going to be more difficult than I originally thought.

Right about now you are probably thinking that I’m crazy for not believing or thinking that this guy is crazy. But you know me and before even meeting Dr. Durana, I had done my homework. Carlos Durana, Ph.D., M.Ac., Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM) is licensed as an acupuncturist. According to Washingtonian Magazine, he is one of the most highly regarded practitioners in his field. He is a body worker and writer/researcher with many years of experience in Chinese herbology, medical Qigong, life and wellness coaching, meditation, stress management, exercise and nutrition. Dr. Durana is also a clinical psychologist and professional counselor. This guy, when you meet him, you just know he’s a good soul.

He looked at my paperwork for only three minutes and then insisted on looking at my tongue outside in the sun. I know, I know a bit strange to say the least. It wasn’t until my second session that I had the nerve to ask what he saw by looking at my tongue.

We had a conversation about my life. He knew about my divorce and asked why I wasn’t married now. I explained that we had grown in different directions. Why would I ever want to put myself in a situation like that again if I couldn’t make things work with my best friend? It was traumatizing. He indicated that I had seeded emotions I haven’t come to terms with. We continued and discussed my miscarriage, Camilla being a surprise pregnancy and then my recent diagnosis of breast cancer.

Out of nowhere he indicated that I have pain in my joints. I explained that this comes from dancing. He asked when I stopped dancing and I said when I was 12 years old, continuing that quitting was the biggest mistake of my life. He knew my parents were divorced and asked me how old I was at the time of the split. I said 12 years old. He then told me that I was holding all of these repressed feelings from both the divorce and the regret of quitting dancing in my joints. We talked about dance and when I get better I need to dance again. I need to feel passion in life.

He started acupuncture and I immediately felt a surge of emotion. It was the weirdest feeling. It was almost like a burning sensation in my left foot. He said he had tapped into my hope.  

What the hell!?!? Did he read about the bears Hope and Faith

He then moved to my right hand. He said there were two points that showed I have sinus issues and that I currently had a bad cold. He then hit a new point in my right arm—nausea and anxiety. I haven’t been nauseated at all and that is one thing I’ve feared. Acupuncture is supposed to release these senses which might be why I haven’t been sick.

Next, I felt like my heart was pounding out of the front of my chest from the pain of the lung biopsy. I had never felt anything like it. He asked what I was feeling and when I told him, he sat me up. He pressed on a couple of places on my back and the heart pounding and pain subsided. I felt like a broken little toy that he made several adjustments to and then I was back on the assembly line.

I left with him telling me that I am very high strung. (Psh. Tell me something I don’t already know.) He told me that it would be difficult, but that I needed to work on my breathing and tapping into my emotions. He said, “You’re a work in progress.”

It wasn’t until I got home that I realized that I had forgotten to give him the first page of my paperwork which explained the reason for my appointment and my primary aliments. OMG, he knew me even without all this paperwork. Then something came to mind that he had said, “Make the root come out of your feet and touch the ground.”

Sunday, Feb. 5: Yoga/Meditation 

My friend Kelli came to my home to do some yoga and meditation with me. I met her through Kwiatek and she is one of the most amazing people I know. First, she is gorgeous—statuesque like a goddess with long red hair, but she is also incredibly enchanting on a spiritual level. She visited India last year with a group of yoga teachers on a spiritual trek. She’s fascinating.

She worked with me for an hour and a half. We started at the hips because that’s where women keep their problems. That explains a lot. I hadn’t realized how tight my hips were. I am a very flexible person with my dancing background and noticed how limited my range of motion was. What the hell!? 

We then did some stretching and I could actually feel the tumor attached to my chest wall. It was the strangest feeling—it had never happened before. And then I felt it pop.

I learned that cancer is an attack on my body and in order to combat it, I need to practice loving my body. She opened her meditation book and it fell open to self love. It was exactly what I needed—mantras of love and kindness directed at my body. Just like the affirmation from The Help.

She gave me sesame oil which she said would rid my body of all toxins. I use it every night before I go to bed.

She will continue to do yoga and meditation with me through this process in the comfort of my home. I’m so humbled and feel amazingly blessed.

Tuesday, Feb. 7: Acupuncture

Dr. Durana: “What are your emotions? How are you feeling? What are your thoughts about your first chemo tomorrow?”
Me: “What did you see on my tongue?
Dr. Durana: "Under your tongue there are big blue veins sticking out, this can indicate several things but one is slow or no circulation in the blood – meaning a tumor. Your tongue is very pale and the tip of the tongue is bright red which indicates digestive issues and anxiety.”

OK, how did he know about my IBS back when I was in school? 

I started laying face down on my belly. Dr. Durana began sticking needles in my back. He was surprised that I had no toxic energy whatsoever (Thanks sesame oil!), because the spots where he was inserting the needles were not turning red. He said this meant that I am hopeful and optimistic. I told him, “I do have hope.”

We then worked on my breathing. I’m not a good breather, never have been, so I gave this my full focus. I started breathing and could feel the energy of my breath from my pelvis to my head. Dr. Durana told me to focus on different emotions while I was breathing. I let them move through me like passing clouds and allowed myself to feel each one intently and then let it move by. When I would inhale I would think of peace and healing and when I exhaled I would think of releasing and relaxing.

My mind wondered to my friend Kerri. Why had I read her blog before I came? It was so stupid. I needed to realize my situation is not like everyone elses. I can’t compare. 

Dr. Durana started tapping fast all over my head. He must have known my thoughts had focused.

Dr. Durana: “What are you thinking about?”
Me: “My friend Kerri. She had breast cancer. I was praying.” (Kerri passed away not long ago from breast cancer that had spread.)
Dr. Durana: “Thinking about death is OK. Just because you think about it doesn’t mean you are going to die.”

My throat caught. How did he know Kerri had died? I never said that. 

Dr. Durana: “You need to move through these emotions to heal. It’s OK to think about not seeing your daughter grow up. These fears are true emotions.”

I could feel the surge of emotion start at my feet and went all the way up to my head. I started bawling. I don’t even know why I was crying—it was everything coming out at once. 

Me: “What’s happening to me?”
Dr. Durana: “Are you typically unable to cry?”
Me: “Yes, I hardly ever cry and especially not in front of someone I’ve only seen twice.”
Dr. Durana: “This is a safe place. You can cry here. You can’t be happy all the time or sad all the time—you have to face every emotion and allow yourself to stay there in order to heal.”

It took me 10 minutes to stop crying and Dr. Durana allowed the emotion to run its course. He then put a pin in my left hand and I practically jumped off the table.

Me: “What was that!?!?!?”
Dr. Durana laughed and said, “That’s your heart.” He then continued, “You have a lot of anxiety today.”

He moved to the tightness at the base of my skull that runs down my neck.

Dr. Durana: "Sometimes these types of things hold one memory or thought. I am going to work on this and tell me your first thought."
Me: "My grandmother"
Dr. Durana: "Is she ill?"
Me: "Yes. She and I have a very special connection. We call it a special “power” that we share.”

It was another amazing experience, to say the least. Without a doubt I believe this man has a sixth sense. Just by looking at me and feeling me, he was completely in tune with my thoughts and feelings.

Now, I don’t leave feeling like I’ve had a massage. I’m not relaxed. But I leave with my head clearer and relieved. And because of that, I believe. I am OK with being a work in progress, just as long as there is progress.