Answering friends’ questions

Several of the other questions I have had from many, many of my female friends relate to how I found my cancer and what the lumps feel like. Since being diagnosed, I have been voluntarily been groped by at least half of dozen women, just like you and me, who don’t have medical training, so that they could feel my lumps in my breast and lymph nodes.

So, how did I find it? Before I get into that, I want to give you some context on my boobs. Who ever thought I would be posting that statement on the internet…

Almost 20 years ago, I found a large lump in my right breast. When bring it to the attention to my doctor, he got me into my first mammogram. It showed that I had dense and lumpy breasts and I had a large mass (~4.5 cm in width) in my right breast. As a result, my doctor put me on a 2-year screening program as he felt it made me “high-risk”. It was part of my routine to get them done every 2 years. So, when it was time for my regular mammogram after I had moved to Calgary, I went to a walk-in clinic (it was impossible to find family physicians back in 2007/2008) and asked for one. I was told that in Alberta, mammograms were only offered after the age of 50 or for women who were considered “high-risk”. I told him that I was considered “high-risk” in BC, so he reluctantly gave me mammogram. It came back clear. He reiterated that I wouldn’t get one again until I was 50 or unless something changed. Then, in 2013, my relatively new GP ordered a mammogram for me since he wasn’t familiar with my lump and he wanted to get a new image. Again, it came back clear.

Fast forward ~6 years, which brings me to February of this year. I was washing in the shower and I felt a small, pea size lump under the big lump I had been carrying around with me for decades. It was smaller than the tip of my pinky and infinitely smaller than the lump I already had. It was so small, so in my mind, there was no way that something so small could be breast cancer, especially since the doctors had told me that I had lumpy breasts. And, it was hard to find. Even after the diagnosis, I couldn’t always feel it. It moves around.

But, I followed my instincts and booked an appointment with my GP the next day. After checked my breasts, he immediately booked me in for a mammogram and ultrasound. Long story short… the little, tiny lump underneath my big one, was cancer. And, it spread to the previously benign lump that I had. So now, I had two cancer lumps in my breast… or so I thought! My oncologist felt one under my nipple! I had never checked under my nipple since the nipple is lumpy. I didn’t think of it! But, there was indeed a lump under it!

Then, I found out it was in my lymph nodes. There is no way I could feel those, right? Wrong! You can check your lymph nodes, but I didn’t know that. This isn’t something they teach you in school to do. They are hard to find. Now, once you have cancer in them, I can feel them. But, if I check on the left armpit, I can’t. But honestly, I never, ever, ever checked my lymph nodes for lumps because nobody teaches you that. You should! Now that I know how to, I will be checking my left lymph nodes for swelling in the future. I don’t know how to explain where to find them, but ask your doctor to show you. Then, try finding them yourself, regularly. I have to close my eyes and focus but can’t find them now. Practice and learn what they feel like and report any changes immediately to your doctor.

If anything good comes out of this, I hope the women who felt my boobs and lymph nodes can better monitor themselves so they can better understand what they are looking for on their self-exams. I only wish I head learned what it felt like before having cancer myself.

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Triple-positive breast cancer

A number of people privately asked me about the kind of cancer I have and my treatments, so I figured I would post it here since I’ve had the question a number of times.

I have what is called ‘triple-positive’ stage 3 breast cancer. The triple-positive refers to the fact that my cancer is stimulated by estrogen, progesterone and HER2 (short form for “human epidermal growth factor receptor 2” protein). About 20 years ago, being diagnosed with HER2-positive cancer was a death sentence. But, things have changed drastically since then due to the discovery of targeted therapies.

I found the following 2 articles helpful in explaining “triple-positive” and HER2-positive breast cancer in laymen’s terms:…

Because I am triple-positive, I also have to be cognizant of what I eat since there are a number of foods that stimulate estrogen, progesterone and HER2 production. So, I need to limit my intake of many foods. The list is incredibly long and scary. It seems like everything I eat stimulates one of the hormones or protein. At the end of the day, the oncological dietician told me to eat a varied diet and focus on simply cutting out processed foods, otherwise I will starve and go nuts trying to figure out what I can / can’t eat. But who knew that too many berries, too many mushrooms or too much broccoli could make matters worse?!?

I also had a couple of questions re: my treatment and side effects but will write about those another time.

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Participating in cancer research

I’m excited to have been called by the AMBER Study. It’s a study that is looking at the impact of lifestyle and physical activity has on breast cancer (stages 1-3C) have on survivorship. The study started in 2012 and the final survivorship results should be available in early 2030. I’m one of the last 50 recruits being accepted into this study.

If I am going to get cancer, I might as well contribute what I can to research in the hopes of increasing survivorship for other cancer patients down the road. At least I am doing something positive for society with my shitty situation.

Today, I had anthropometric measures taken, as well as a PAR Q+ pre-screening and have a DXA Scan completed. Then, I had some fitness measures done, including the Bruce Treadmill Test. Lastly, paperwork! There are 4 questionnaires that will take approximately 3 hours complete. I have been sent home with 2 activity monitors that will be on me at all times (with the exception of bathing) for one week.

In doing my part for cancer research. I had to wear the big mask instead of the smaller mouthpiece because of my mouth sores. I dislike cardio on a good day. I dislike cardio more with a mask on even though it doesn’t change my breathing. It’s psychologically restrictive!

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Alberta is paving the Canadian path by incorporating a province-wide exercise program into cancer patients’​ treatment

I’m very excited to be participating in the Alberta Cancer Exercise (ACE) prgoram, which is study with ~1,000 cancer patients across Alberta to evaluate the impact of incorporating exercise as part of their treatment plan. I’m lucky that I was able to squeeze in at the tail end of those being accepted, since there were already over 700 patients already involved as of November 2018.

ACE was developed to provide this service, and to help individuals with cancer to better withstand and recover from cancer treatment. It is a 5-year study, which required me to have screening and fitness testing on Thursday. I officially start the program on Monday, which entails completing physical exercises tailored to your fitness level and adapted as I go through my treatments.

ACE will take my measurements again at 12-weeks, 24 weeks and at one year to see the effect of exercise on my physical activity levels, fatigue, pain and quality of life. I will also complete a questionnaire at the end of years 1 through 5. PS… That means I plan to be around in 5 years, I am not a quitter and I signed up for this study! 😉

This is just one more way that the University of AlbertaUniversity of Calgary’s Health & Wellness Lab and Alberta Health Services are working together with many other partners to make our province a top notch cancer-treatment hub.

By next year, I plan to be back hiking, skiing / snowboarding and fully enjoying the great outdoors again with my family. ACE will make sure that I keep my strength up for that! In the meantime, I will keep moving by playing with my kids!

Prescribing Exercise For Cancer Treatment

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How to behave with someone who has cancer – Stealing a page from HGG’s blog

April Fools this year has been unlike any other. And, in case you are wondering, this isn’t a story that has a funny ending.

I’ve been sick since October. It started with a cold, then I severed my extensor tendon on a finger and needed two surgeries, which I thought was the reason I couldn’t get rid of the cold. It moved to my chest and finally, on December 30, I went to ER thinking I had pneumonia, only to be sent home with “likely H1N1”. Strong steroids cleared my lungs, so then I got sinusitis and the bronchitis. I finally started feeling human towards the end of February. Fast forward to 2 weeks ago; the doctor could finally explain why I couldn’t fight my cold. I have advanced invasive breast cancer, which has spread to the lymph nodes.

More testing is needed to confirm the stage, but I have symptoms of stage 4 cancer. Who knew unexplained shoulder pain was a symptom of breast cancer?

In about 3 weeks, I will be starting neoadjuvant chemotherapy in the hopes of shrinking my large masses in my breast and lymph nodes. This will hopefully give my doctor more surgical options, which will come after surgery. Lastly, I will get to enjoy radiation and/or a second round of chemotherapy to close off my treatment. Overall, this is expected to take approximately 9 months.

But, after meeting with my surgeon and nurse navigator, who will be two of my medical team members, I felt more reassured than I have since I found a lump in my breast.

I plan on working throughout the treatment so long as it doesn’t interfere with my health and my medical team continues to give me the green light to do so. Luckily, I have a fantastic employer Yardstick Training, part of the Yardstick group, who has been supportive ever since I have been diagnosed.

As a result, I’m letting you know as it will be hard not to notice when I start losing my hair later this month. I am accepting all positive thoughts, vibes, energies, prayers or even cute scarves that I can wear to keep my head warm throughout the spring and keep the sun off it this summer! 🙂

With that said, I am going to share a blog post from a very, very wise woman who is a dear friend and my mentor. Please take a read:

With that said, I am going to share a blog post from a very, very wise woman who is a dear friend and my mentor. Please take a read:

How to behave with someone who has cancer


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