Sunday, April 29, 2012

Ava, third from left

Ava had her first netball game on Friday night. I'd never heard of netball before we moved to Australia, but it's very popular here. Pretty much every girl plays netball in the course of her girlhood. This year, we wanted her to give team sports a go, so netball it is!

The courts are in a park that's set back in the bush. I mean, you turn off the main road and drive through this darkened neighborhood, and just when you're thinking a haunted house must be around here see the turnoff for the park.
And come to find out, everyone was there. If you've been wondering where all the people have gotten to on Friday nights? Apparently they're at netball. Because, back in the wilderness, there were hundreds of cars parked and kids running to play tennis and netball and lacrosse. And parents and reluctant siblings and coaches.

There are about 15 courts, and because they're just sorta plopped into the forest, everyone stands around court side to watch their team, or sits on big rocks off to the side.

Ava had a blast. It helped that her team won! It was fun watching her get the hang of the game. Each player has a player on the opposing team that they're supposed to cover, or mark. (Sorry, I'm still figuring this out.) Anyway, the other team had identical triplets. So half of the team looked the same! Clearly a tactical advantage! "It was a bit confusing," Ava told me later.

This will be our Friday night for the next several months. It was fun! Jason has been waiting for our kids to play sports since before we even had kids. He stood on the sidelines, shouting little "tips" to Ava. Keep in mind, this is the first netball game either of us have ever watched.

I sidled up next to him. "Babe? Let's observe the culture. Do you see other parents coaching their kids, over the voice of their actual coach?" He grinned. "I know, I know. I'm just excited. I'm American--it's what we do." "I know you are!" I said, "But let's tamp it down a bit, so people will still like us."

With everything we've had going on over the last few months, it was really nice just to be there and feel normal. Which we are, of course. But you know what I mean, right? It was chilly out there, and I thought to grateful I am that I get to keep my hair. A windy winter night out there with no hair wouldn't be so nice.

The things you think of sometimes.

Then, the game was over, and won, and it was time for ice cream! Jason's parents are here, and we all trooped back to the car. And in one of those rubber-meets-the-road parenting moments, we had to remind Grace that she couldn't have any, because she refused to eat even three (3!) bites of dinner. (Mom, we gave her 50 million chances, I swear. Don't hate--appreciate!)

So she had a level 2 meltdown (tough, but it's no level 3) and Jason dropped her and me at home to go to bed while they went on. After all, who wants to watch others eat I've cream when you don't get any?

Are we so mean? Don't worry...I confess to you now that I gave her a lollipop before 8am the other day.

Um, I'm American? It's what we do? I really have no idea. The things we do sometimes.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Getting On With It

We just got back this evening from a quick trip to the Hunter Valley; just Mom, Dad, Grace, and me. The Hunter is a wine-growing region about 2 hours out of Sydney, and it is beautiful. In spite of it raining off and on, we had a great time. We took the "tourist route" to get there, which was a windy, two-lane road through tiny towns with names like "Bucketty" and wombat crossings. Oh--and this, at a roadside sculpture garden:
Australia is known for its massive bull ants, and this cheeky interpretation caused me to pull over, do a U-turn, and go back so we could get a photo.

In my last post, I mentioned that I had some good news to share with y'all. Well, my sister scooped me and blogged about it first. But that's okay, as she's blogging everyday this month, and we all know how challenging it can be to come up with interesting content. And it's like I always say. If my cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment can provide content for just one blog post, then it's all been worth it. That's what it's all about, after all. Did you know I always say that? Just kidding, Beck! Actually, please read Becky's post if you will...her description of all this is better than mine.

Two months ago, when we had our first post-op meeting with my surgeon, the one where we talked about chemo, he also mentioned the possibility of being screened to see if there was a genetic element involved in my cancer. Here's a super-quick, most likely flawed summation: there are two gene mutations that have been identified as having a major role in breast and ovarian cancers. Those mutations can occur in either the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 genes. Researchers think that these genes are meant to serve some protective purpose against cancer. (I'm not sure I'm saying that correctly, but that's the gist.) Sometimes you might hear someone say they're getting screened to see if they "have the gene for breast cancer". What they mean is, they're being screened to see if they have the mutation in that gene that correlates with breast cancer. Most breast cancers (about 95%) are not related to BRCA1 or BRCA2. But if you have one of those gene mutations, it has serious implications for your likelihood of developing cancer.

Due to both Becky and me having breast cancer before the age of 40, my doctor passed my name on to the Familial Cancer Centre at a nearby major hospital. A week later, one of their genetic counsellors called me and took a family history, asking about cancers in our family, about aunts and uncles and siblings and grandparents. Based on the information I gave her over the phone, she asked if I could come in and meet with them face-to-face. Which Jason and I did the following week.

We talked at length with a genetic counsellor who walked us through cell reproduction, how cells with these mutations reproduce the same faults, again and again until it becomes likely that a tumor can develop. We looked over a family tree they'd drawn up, based on the information I'd given over the phone. We talked about statistics of cancer and cancer reoccurrence if the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations are present. She told me that, in their estimation, there was a "fair chance" that I could have the mutation. Did I want to be tested?, she asked. Not everyone wants to know. Yes, I said. I definitely wanted to know. As much as you can "know", anyway.

At this point, they are careful to manage your expectations of what this test means. There is no "negative", there is only "inconclusive". Inconclusive means that they could find no mutation in those two genes, but there could be something elsewhere that's contributing. The human genome is pretty big, after all. If the test is positive for the mutation, I could choose to be closely monitored and checked each year to try and catch any new developments in their earliest stages. Mammograms, breast MRIs and such. Or, I could opt to immediately have a bi-lateral mastectomy, removing all breast tissue. This is called "risk-reducing surgery". And eventually, I would need to look at having my ovaries removed as well. The counsellor asked me, if the test is positive, would surgery be something I'd consider? I think they just want to make sure that it doesn't come out of left field for people. I told her that surgery would certainly be on the table if it came to that.

Then, she called the lab to see if they could rush the results for me. You see, this initial testing usually takes 3-4 months to complete. The lab said they could do it in 3-4 weeks. Then I went to have some blood drawn and we went home. That was that. Well, except for the few weeks of wondering and waiting. Actually, it wasn't too terrible, the waiting. I was also waiting at that time for the Oncotype Dx test results--the one which predicted a recurrence score for this current cancer--and I was preoccupied with that. Actually, ha! Now that I see that written...okay, I was probably a bit stressed.

Last week, Mom and I took the kids to the park. I was backing the car into a parking spot when my phone buzzed with an incoming call. I recognized that it was the hospital, and answered it as I turned the car off. The counselor I'd spoken with a month ago was on the phone. My test results were in, she said. Could I come in first thing tomorrow morning to discuss the results?

And here is where, for the first time that month, that I got nervous about the genetic stuff. I'd known they wouldn't give me the results over the phone either way, but the fact that they were squeezing me in so quickly gave me pause. Pulling the kids' scooters and helmets out of the back of the car, I scheduled the appointment.

Well, you already know it was good news. Jason and I got there the next morning, and our counsellor walked us back to meet with the geneticist, who'd been away during our first appointment. I had one final flutter when the counsellor said, "I wanted you to meet with the doctor, because I know you'll have a lot of questions." "Holy crap," I thought, "That means positive." But then she said, "I think you'll be pleased with the results." The test was inconclusive, meaning that no mutations were found on BRAC1 or BRAC2. Simply put, that means that I go on with treatment as planned, that I don't immediately need to consider surgery, and that I don't need to start thinking about what this means for Ava and Grace, for Becky and Laura, and for my mom.

The doctor did encourage me to stay in touch with them--to let them know of any changes in our family history, and to come see them in 10 years or so, when my girls are older. She said that when there are advances in either research or technique they often re-test samples, and that they would contact me if they ever found anything. She was encouraging, but also very clear: they know only so much about how genetics plays into cancer. There could be a BRCA3 that they haven't found yet.

But I'm not worried. Truly, I'm not. That doesn't mean that I'm convinced there's no chance of a genetic component at play. It's more that I feel...what else can we do? We've done all we know to do, and now I just need to have my treatment and get on with things. The way I see it, it was completely providential that this cancer was found when it was--another year easily could've gone by. And I feel like I will know things when I need to know them. Is that an over-simplification? Definitely. But it is working for me. I'm in good hands.

Friday, April 13, 2012

I Didn't Ask To Be Born!

When my mom and dad booked their flights to come out, we tried to time it with when we thought I'd be having treatment. So that they could help with the kids, house, and whatever else. They were anxious to get here and I was no less anxious to have them here, too.

Little did we know that things would get pushed back a bit, due to me deciding to have some extra testing done.(I'm posting from my phone, so I don't know how to link to it, but you can scroll down 3-4 posts to see what I mean, if you want.) Not needing chemo was a very lucky break that I hadn't dared to hope for, but waiting for that determination pushed radiation treatment back.

I went last week to get setup for radiotherapy--got two little tattoos like the gangsta I am in my heart of hearts--and am due to start daily radiation treatments on May 1st. About a week after they leave. Sad face.

The southern girl/middle child in me is fighting the impulse to apologize that they came all this way to help for a 7 week stay and then I haven't even begun treatment yet. I know, I am ridiculous. I have never claimed otherwise.

The reality is, though, as I was telling Mom today, they were here for a lot of angst and anxious time for me. Which is truly what I've needed most, I think. The decisions about genetic testing, and the test to determine if I needed chemo, all the processing after multiple doctor's appointments, the what-ifs that inevitably come up during this process.

So even though I've felt great physically, of course it's been an emotionally draining time. (Hello, obvious statement of the year! Did ya know, breast cancer diagnosis is stressful?? I'm here to provide you with this helpful info!) So, it's been invaluable to have them here--not just for me, but for all of us. Because let's be honest, the amount of peanut butter and jellies that Grace requires in one day alone is enough to drive me to drink. Sometimes, you just need another pair of hands to spread the Skippy. That phrase should go on a T-shirt.

We've had a great time with them here, we've gotten out and about a lot, we've played lots of Dominion, we've barbecued, we've just hung out. It has made all these doctor's appointments so much easier to arrange, not having to scramble to figure out childcare.

Now that mom and dad are retired, they might be interested in supplementing their income. So, if you have a need for grandparents to stand by in a medical or family crisis, let me know. Their rates are reasonable, and might I add? They are professional educators, so your kids will be well tended. However, they require a healthy supply of Wild Turkey and Diet Coke. But not together. What are you, a heathen?

So, thanks Mom and Dad! I think of you as my own parents, and I wanted you to know.

More from me soon! I should also add, Jason's parents are coming soon, so the outpouring of grandparent love will continue! Oh! And we got some good news yesterday, I'll be back tomorrow to fill you in. Not trying to bait you, just tired tired and must sleep, must sleep NOW. Xoxo

Saturday, April 7, 2012

From me

Happy Easter.

I love you all like I love guacamole. More, even! And candy corn. But not together, cause, gross.

Not you, gross. Guacamole and candy corn, gross. I'm ruining the moment we were trying to have, aren't I? Trying again...

Happy Easter! May God bless you more than you thought He would.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Telling it like it is

Driving home tonight, with Ava and Nate in the back seat.

Ava: Who knows? Maybe one day I'll be rich and buy a limousine.

Me: Maybe so. But if I was rich, there's a lot of other things I'd rather have than a limousine!

Ava: Oh, you guys won't be rich! Your chance has passed.

Me: Wait! Our chance passed already?

Jason: Really? So we're just done, huh?

Ava and Nate: (laughing, totally delighted with themselves)

Nate: And you'll probably never be famous, either.

Me: Why do you say that?

Nate: You'll never be famous cause you work for a church. Nobody who's famous does THAT.

Me: Ooookay. Well, at least now Dad and I know what to expect from life! Thanks, guys.

Ava: Yeah, *totally* passed.

And yet, I think we might still have some life left in these old bones.