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.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

UPDATE: Chemo #1

Our little Lara Croft is doing beautifully at her first chemotherapy this morning!!! She is surrounded by friends and family -- who all are reminiscing and keeping Jenn laughing with hysterical stories. She also has an amazingly uplifting playlist of music (eight hours total thanks to all of your suggestions). 

She is very comfortable and in a positive mindset. Today is the first day she has been able to take action in stopping this cancer in its tracks. It is very empowering for her. 

I will update everyone later today on how she is doing. But rest assured that she is well and in great hands.

UPDATE:  Jenn is home and resting comfortably. She feels great and having no issues. Hallelujah!!!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Plunge

(written by Jen Kwiatek)

My sweet baby girl, I wouldn't wish cancer on my worst enemy, let alone on one of my best friends. You have an amazing medical team, a support system that blows my mind, people following your journey from nine different countries, yet there is nothing I can do to fix this. I can't fix this. It pains me in ways I am unable to put into words. All I can do is share my journey to help you be as prepared as possible and reassure you that I will fight alongside you until you are cancer-free.

(Let me wipe my eyes and clear my throat. Ahem. Now I can continue.)

Tomorrow is the plunge ... your first day of chemotherapy. There is nothing I can say or do to prepare you for it. Other than to share some of my experience with you. (You might remember quite a bit from being there with me during my treatments.)

I know one of your friends told you that you are like Lara Croft. I LOVE THIS ANALOGY!!! I think there is no better visual. Embody that concept. You are a warrior. Cancer has come into your home and is threatening the life that you have with Christian and Camilla. It's time to put on your kickass boots, rally your friends, put on your war paint and go to battle. It's time to stop this cancer in it's tracks and kill it. BELIEVE. 

The first 1/2 hour to hour of chemo is incredibly annoying. It's a lot of waiting. They will hook you up (access the port in your chest), which you shouldn't feel. Although the first couple of times I was hooked up was uncomfortable (sore) because my body was still healing from the Mediport surgery. (But as we know, my surgery did not go as smoothly as yours did. I think it was due to Michael Jackson's milk.) So it could ache when they insert the needle and you will feel pressure when they push. The sensation of the port connecting is similar to pulling a cork out of a wine bottle ... kind of a suction-feeling. It's weird to say the least. It feels the same when they remove it at the end of chemo.

Then they will take blood and run it at the lab. They have to run your blood work prior to administering any medicine each time. So you will sit and wait 15-20 minutes depending on how long the lab takes. (This is typically when I would read gossip magazines and do word searches to minimize my anxiety.) They will print out your blood work and give it to you (this way you can chart your counts week-over-week, Mrs. Google). They will flush your tube into your port several times because it has to be cleaned before and after each medicine and blood draw. You might taste/smell the saline flush. Again, it's a very weird feeling, typically cold. (To this day, I cannot stand the smell or taste of saline.)

Once you have the green light on your blood work, they may give you more preventative drugs through the IV prior to chemotherapy. More flushing. Then chemo starts. The best thing is, you won't feel any different at all. Life is normal, except you are hooked to a bag of fluid ... oh, and other than being super healthy, you have cancer. It is all surreal. I would continuously eat and drink to clear the taste/smell from my nose and mouth. It will be metallic in flavor, like you are sucking on a nickel, especially with the Taxotere. Carboplatin doesn't taste or feel like anything, in my opinion.

Jenn, you have to stay focused on how your body is feeling. Several times I got itchy, my chest got tight and my skin was hot. THIS IS AN ALLERGIC REACTION. You might get it one time and not another, but you need to tell the nurse immediately. It is imperative to listen to your body's signals. It will not prevent chemo; they might just slow down the drip or give you some Benadryl. Be honest with your nurse. Promise me that.

By the end of chemotherapy you will still feel the same as you do right this very instant. You will ponder, "Is it actually working? I don't feel any different." (Just like you did with the Xanax.) This is when your meditations/yoga with Kelli, acupuncture and visualization come into play. Remember, mind over matter. You have to keep your mind focused and positive -- completely self consumed. You might be tired from the anxiety of the day and sitting in a recliner for three and a half to four hours. Listen to your body. Go home and take an hour nap if you need to recharge. Remember, if people come by to drop off food and want to see you, you do NOT need to be the good host. People will understand and respect the fact that you need to rest, or spend time with Camilla, etc. This will also keep your environment germ-free since your immune system will be depleted. I know you're a big girl, but I am telling you this because I love you and I have pushed myself too far before and gotten sick during treatment. Again, listen and trust your body. Your friends will understand.

You will have good days and bad days (primarily due to the Taxotere). My bad days were always day 3 and 7. I also had bad chemos and good chemos. The drugs should build over time and toward the end you might be more rundown, but that's not always the case. Every body is different.

Now, the topic I know you don't want to talk about. You can expect your hair to be gone in 14 days. On about day 11 or 12, your scalp will hurt and your hair might start thinning (since you have so much of it, like I do). Your scalp will feel like you have slept in a tight ponytail for a month while wearing a headband. No one tells you this, but your head is going to hurt like hell while the hair follicles die at the root. It sucks ... one of the worst things about chemo. And it comes out patchy, so it's super attractive. You will want your hair gone. I know we are planning to shave it on the 19th, but if you wake up one morning and you can't stand it anymore (which is what happened to me), call me and I will come over. We will do it together. It is surreal, but it is also empowering to remove your hair before chemo does. It made me feel like I had control. (There are some things you can't unsee. To this day if I shampoo my hair and see a lot of it shed on the floor of my shower it can throw me into a panic attack. It's OK. Stay in that moment and feel those feelings. It's important to help you heal as you move through your journey.)

I love you with all my heart and you are going to do great tomorrow. Until you find your own quote, I am going to loan you mine:

"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer." -Albert Camus

Monday, February 6, 2012

Lung X-ray and Biopsy Results

(written by Jen Kwiatek)

Jenn started her morning at Reston Hospital for a scheduled x-ray to check on the pneumothorax of her left lung. She met with her radiologist Dr. David Dubois who told her that the lung is significantly better than it was on Friday. It isn’t 100%, but it is much better. He said he is confident it will continue improving and that she does not need a tube or to return for another x-ray. Jenn said, “I just really want to hug you. I don’t get good news that often these days.”

She then received a call from Dr. Heyer’s office. The needle biopsy of the lung nodule came back—it is cancer in her lung. The receptors are exactly the same as the primary tumor and the lymph nodes, which is good news. That means this isn’t a secondary cancer, like lung cancer. This is breast cancer that spread, so the nodules, lymph nodes and tumor should all respond in the exact same way to chemotherapy. Let's kill it all!!!

Dr. Heyer spent the weekend conferencing and consulting with other oncologists and medical professionals globally. They have decided to switch the cocktail of drugs in Jenn’s chemotherapy. She will now receive Taxotere and Carboplatin every three weeks for a total of six treatments … that means she will have chemo over the course of 18 weeks. She starts on Wednesday, Feb. 8. These drugs and the schedule is exactly the same as the treatment I received four years ago, only I had one more drug called Herceptin because my cancer was HER2 positive. So Jenn has an idea of what to expect having spent time with me throughout my journey.

The reason for the last minute change is because Adriamycin should only be given once in a lifetime. It is a pretty toxic drug which is hard on the heart. Because of Jenn’s Stage 4 Triple Negative diagnosis and the cancer now being evident in the lung nodules, the probability of her having a recurrence is higher than before. So, they want to keep this medication (Adriamycin) in their back pocket should they need it down the road. It is a strategic move. Jenn understands the change and believes her medical team is doing what’s best.

She is in great spirits this morning (I think partially due to David Beckham’s H&M Super Bowl AD.) She is in the company of one of her best childhood friend, Amy Shroades and she knows that all she has to do now is focus on what us pink sisters call “the plunge” … chemotherapy on Wednesday of this week.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Music Heals

(written by Jen Kwiatek)

I have started compiling a playlist that Jenn can listen to during her chemo treatments. The songs need to be uplifting, positive, "girl power" and fun. NOTHING depressing.

Is there a song that means something to you and Jenn? When you're feeling down is there a song that can lift your spirits? Either comment on this blog with the artist and song, or send me an email at

Friday, February 3, 2012


(written by Jen Kwiatek)

Jenn went back to the hospital this morning for a scheduled x-ray so that her radiologist could check the status of the pneumothorax (collapsed lung) due to the needle biopsy of the left lung nodule done yesterday. The penumothorax has not resolved itself yet, but her radiologist is not terribly concerned. He asked that she come back on Monday for another x-ray to ensure that there is improvement. If there isn't then they will need to insert a tube into her lung to help her out a little. (All of this is normal.)

She is to go immediately to the ER if she experiences difficulty breathing, chest pains or begins coughing up blood clots. 

She is sore from all the poking and prodding, but this is the best I have seen her in weeks. Her spirits are high and despite everything she's been through she says she "feels good." She will be going to an acupuncturist at noon today and meeting with our mutual friend Kelli who is a yoga instructor prior to chemo on Wednesday to meditate and get her mind and body strong. I am absolutely in awe of Jenn. I always knew she was exceptional, but this ... this is divine.

She even told me that when all of this is done that she wants to start a program where she can go and sit with women who have no one else to accompany them to chemotherapy. She is already looking at ways she can pay it forward which just speaks to how amazing her character is. Despite what we are dealt with in life, we should all ask ourselves how we can do more and help others who may not have the same support system.

Jenn: "Kwiatek, we're gonna change the world."
Me: "I know we are, baby girl. I know we are."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Biopsy Went Beautifully

(written by Jen Kwiatek)

Jenn just got back to me safe and sound. Thank God. She came around the corner in the stretcher laughing with the nurse. Shocker.

Her radiologist is something else. His name is Dr. David Dubois. He did his residency and medical school at Georgetown University along with a Fellowship at Johns Hopkins Medical Institution.

She said the biopsy was uncomfortable but not horrible. She said it felt like someone slammed her shoulder and chest in a door. Some fluid came up into her mouth which she said tasted a bit like bile. The doctor explained that her lung is partially collapsed, but that this isn't unusual. That it should re-inflate itself, but if not that they would insert a tube. (All very normal.) She will be achy over the next 24 hours and perhaps spit up some blood. (All very normal.) Now, we won't have results on the biopsy until Monday, so keep those positive vibes coming.

They did an x-ray of her chest and plan to watch her over the next four hours. She is in great spirits and actually wanted me to go get us Chick-fil-a, so we went to town on a number 2 and number 6.

She is such a trooper. Everyone who meets her here at the hospital is just in awe.

Feel free to reach out to her once she's home--after 6pm.

Needle Biopsy of the Lung Nodule

(written by Jen Kwiatek)

Jenn and I are at Reston Hospital for the needle biopsy of the nodule in her left lung.

When we arrived there was an elderly man collapsed on the floor of the lobby. Jenn and I asked his son, "Do you need help?" He said, "Yes, I think I do." Jenn and I dropped our purses running to his aid. Together the three of us lifted the man into a wheelchair. He was very sick and dizzy. Here's a girl with Stage 4 breast cancer lifting a man back to safety. I'm in awe.

Once we reached the Radiology Center we heard over the intercom of the hospital came "Code Blue." Jenn looked at me, I knew her anxiety was high. I rested my hand gently on her back while she filled out another set of agonizing paperwork.

It wasn't until almost 11:45am that they took her back. Within a few minutes my name was called. I felt like I was going to puke. All I could think was, "OMG, something went wrong and I'm going to have to call Jenn's mom and Christian." Once I got into the surgery prep area I realized Jenn was having a panic attack. They usually don't let people back here, but that meant nothing to me. I immediately jumped into her bed with her.

Within a few minutes we were laughing and talking about how cute the PA was. They just took her back for the biopsy which should be an hour. I kissed her and told her how much I loved her and then cried in the empty room when she was out of earshot.

She will have to stay here four additional hours after the biopsy for them to monitor her lung and ensure it does not collapse. I will post another blog once she is back safe and sound to me. Please pray ... pray the hardest you ever have!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

I Think I’m Getting Sick

The last few days have been the most challenging of my entire life. I am scared, then sad, then angry, then frustrated, then optimistic ... and just when I've felt every possible emotion, I start cycling back through them again. I am stuck in a tornado and at any given moment I am dropped to the hard surface of the Earth and then whipped back up in the spiral. I honestly don't know which way is up at this point or how I am even supposed to feel. I am at a loss of even beginning to comprehend what is happening to me. I cannot believe I have cancer.

I am a very analytical and rational person who works from percentages and probabilities and the fact that my situation changes on a daily basis is making me incredibly anxious. I feel as though I have no control. This disease just sits in my body and continues to spread. I am so pissed off.

I understand, respect and put faith in my medical team that they are going about this in the most logical and rational way possible, but I can't help but feel like we are losing ground in being able to kill this cancer. Both Dr. Heyer and my nurse Jessica have assured me that pushing my chemotherapy back a week won't make a difference and that they think there is huge value in biopsying the lung nodule. Having to wait to get this process moving is difficult mentally and emotionally.

For the past couple of days my chest has been hurting, but I just assumed it was due to the breast MRI (which is not comfortable) or phantom pains. Basically, my mind has started playing tricks on me, which tends to be a normal reaction after a cancer diagnosis.

This morning the chest pain persisted and I proceeded to spit up some phlegm. Hmm, that was odd, although I do typically get a sinus infection around this time of year. Then I sat still and really tried to listen to my body. My throat and ears ached. I think I’m getting sick! Could the nodules in my lungs actually be an infection? OMG, please. I’ll take pneumonia if it doesn’t mean this cancer is in my lungs. I never thought I would hope for pneumonia.

I was messaging with Kwiatek and she said "Call Dr. Heyer's office NOW and tell them." I hadn't really thought much of it, but I guess any changes with my body are essential in the way they treat me. I spoke with Jessica my nurse and she said I need to be on a Z-pak (antibiotic) ASAP. Dr. Heyer also moved my biopsy to TOMORROW (Thursday, Feb. 2) at 10:30am. He said he knew how anxious I was and that he made it happen so I can get this biopsy done and over with. He is a good man. Chemotherapy will still start on Wednesday, Feb. 8 at 9:10am. Maybe my prayers are being heard.

I never really realized before, but if I take the time to listen to my body, it can tell me a lot.