Lindsay Ruland: Ovary Overload

As we finish out the month of January, the C4YW Blog welcomes back, Lindsay Ruland, for the third installment of her monthly series! Check back often to read more into her journey. Here, Lindsay shares with us the experience of egg retrieval surgery. Be sure to visit the website and register for this year’s event in Seattle!

There’s nothing quite like the moment you hear those three little words,“You have cancer,” unless, of course, they are then followed by,“Treatment may compromise your fertility.”

While some young women in this situation may initially worry about losing their hair or their breasts, the first thing that popped into my mind was that I could lose my ability to have children.

As soon as my breast surgeon called for neoadjuvant chemotherapy, I asked, “Is there any way I could freeze my eggs before we get started?”

He pointed me in the direction of several fertility clinics, but reminded me that I had a very small window of time to complete a cycle of IVF before beginning chemo: 3 weeks.

Two days later, I found myself uncomfortably sitting in the office of a fertility specialist. He went over the procedures very brusquely, explaining that I would need to have blood drawn every day to measure my estradiol levels, and that every 3 days or so, I would need a vaginal ultrasound to check on what my ovaries were cooking. I would also need to take an estrogen blocker while undergoing the fertility treatments to avoid feeding the tumor.

“We have to start now,” he said, abruptly getting up from his chair and opening the office door. Confused, I followed him down the hall and found myself in the ultrasound room. Without drinks or dinner, that man had my pants off and my legs up in stirrups in record timing. Needless to say, I was a little embarrassed. Apparently, however, he liked what he saw with that alien probe. My insides got the green light and he sent me back to meet with his nurse to go over my hormone shots.

My head was spinning as all of this information was flying at me. I had just been diagnosed with cancer, how could I keep track of everything they were telling me? I started to cry in the consult room with the nurse as she gave me my first hormone shot, not because the needle hurt, but because I was totally overwhelmed. My mother had been wise enough to bring along her notepad and had recorded everything that had been said along the way. Without her, I would have been lost.

The next day, I showed up for my blood work and they found that my estradiol levels weren’t high enough, so I would need to bump up the dosage. This would also be the first time I would give myself the shot at home. I had to find YouTube tutorials to remember how to accurately mix the hormone solutions. I prepped the site, pinched my skin, and stuck the needle into my abdomen. A huge welt appeared on my skin and I freaked out, hysterically calling the nurse on call. Apparently, I’d used the wrong size needle tip and hadn’t stuck it in deep enough. As the days went on, I got to be somewhat of a pro at giving myself the hormone injections.

Lindsay Post-Op

Lindsay Post-Op

“Wow! You’ll have enough eggs to fill an Easter basket!” the doctor said as he examined my painfully full ovaries. About two weeks in, I certainly felt as though I was pregnant. I found myself waddling to get around because my ovaries were so huge and full of eggs. I was officially on ovary overload.

The nurses called and said that my hormone levels were so high that I would likely be triggering over the weekend. That meant I would need to get a giant intramuscular shot of HCG in my buttock. My mom and I combed over trusty YouTube and found a crazy Russian video of this very procedure. When the time came, I lay on her sofa, pulled down my pants, and let her jab me in the butt muscle with HCG.

The day of my egg retrieval surgery, I was being a wise-ass  It was the only way I could cope. They took me back to the cold OR and had me get onto the table. They strapped me down and put my legs up into stirrups.

“What is this, some kind of bondage movie?” I asked as the anesthesiologist shot me up with the good stuff. I never got to hear a response. I woke up and I felt as though someone had taken a baseball bat to my uterus. All I could think about was getting a vegan “ cheese steak.” The doctor walked past and gave me a double thumbs-up,

“Thirty-seven!” he exclaimed.

Thirty-four eggs survived the freezing. I was proud of myself. At least in some way, my body hadn’t failed me and I had a safety net for the future. One week later, I started chemotherapy. The roller-coaster had only just begun.

Lindsay Ruland is a 26-year-old survivor and a native of Baltimore, MD. She currently works as a histotechnician, and aspires to become an oncology nurse specializing in patient navigation and breast health education. It is her goal to raise awareness and to make resources and information more readily available for younger populations of women affected by breast cancer. Come back to the C4YW blog for future posts by Lindsay, or follow her story on her blog: CANCERLAND

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Kathleen Hammett: Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I knew I was a survivor.

Welcome back to the C4YW Blog, as we welcome Kathleen Hammett to our growing group of writers. Kathleen has a very compelling story, and she will continue to share with us the ups and downs of parenting after diagnosis. Her strong voice is one of the many that C4YW strives to represent. Be sure to visit the website and register for this year’s event in Seattle!

On October 1st, 2007, we joyously welcomed our third daughter, Clara Elizabeth, into our family. The C-section went smoothly and we were looking forward to a speedy recovery. Things did not go as planned. Sixty hours after her birth, barely alive, I was rushed into surgery to evacuate a massive retroperitoneal hemorrhage, so large it had displaced my kidneys and bladder and had even caused my lungs to collapse.

Barely alive after multiple blood transfusions. At least I'm off the ventilator!

Barely alive after multiple blood transfusions. At least I’m off the ventilator!

This was the end of a long journey for my husband and me. Our first daughter was born blind (our Amazing Grace who can now see), our second daughter was born asleep; we were blessed with Ella in our third pregnancy, but lost another daughter on our fourth try. We were physically and mentally exhausted. I woke up in the ICU on a ventilator, 57 staples running from my chest all the way down, minus a uterus, and a long way from recovery. My baby, along with my dreams of a large family went home two weeks before I did. It took an amazing nurse, many generous blood donors, extremely supportive friends and family, and a lot of inner strength to begin healing.

When Clara was 7 months old I decided it was time to get a physical, with a family history of breast cancer this always included a mammogram even though I was only 36.

Obviously I would not be posting on this blog if the results had come back clean and clear. After 7 months of constant medical appointments dealing with the aftermath of a horrific birth experience I was facing the prospect of death again and my tank was completely on empty.

In life, it is so amazing how quickly our perspective can change.

As I went through the normal battery of diagnostic testing we were thrilled at how BLESSED I was to have DCIS. Since both of my breasts were scattered with DCIS coming to terms with a double mastectomy proved to be very difficult for me. My breasts were how I had fed and comforted my babies. Clara was only 7 months old and I had just lost my uterus, could I really stand to lose all my female parts in under a year? Would I ever feel like a woman again? Would a love of shoes be all that separated me from the boys?

Again, after almost dying in child birth and then getting a double mastectomy less than a year later I found myself proclaiming how BLESSED I was: negative nodes! Perspective is an amazing thing.

As I began to heal from yet another major surgery, I started walking daily. Clara took her morning and afternoon naps in the stroller as I pushed my way back to health. After several months I began jogging between mailboxes….this was a MIRACLE! Having developed large breasts in the 6th grade I had literally never been able to run, I could teach step aerobics and spinning all day long, but the repetitive motion of running was too hard on my breasts and back.

As my body regained its muscular strength, I was regaining my inner strength. I am a longtime group fitness instructor and have had the opportunity to help so many women as they heal from breast cancer treatments. I am able to listen and relate to their struggles as I teach them to return to exercise slowly and safely. Each time I get another survivor physically ready to return to live their normal lives, I feel like I have beaten cancer one more time. Our minds heal so much more quickly when we are moving.

Our bodies can overcome so much and with enough work, passion and dedication it is possible to come back and be as strong as or even stronger than before. We are often surrounded by people with excuses or an “I can’t” attitude, coming back from breast cancer, or any cancer shows us that obstacles are meant to be hurdled, cleared or completely obliterated!

Me today, happy healthy and strong!

Me today, happy healthy and strong!

Having never run before cancer, I have now completed five marathons (even qualifying for the Boston Marathon by ten minutes), many 50Ks, and other (even longer) distance races.

Life is good and I am happy to say how incredibly BLESSED I have been!

Perspective.

Kathleen is a wife and full time mom to three amazing, energetic and dramatic daughters.  She loves her part time job teaching group fitness and manages to find time to train for and compete in many running events, ultra-marathons through wooded trails being her favorite.  Kathleen has been cancer free for four years and credits a loving family, a lot of yoga and many trail miles for her happy outlook moving towards the future. Come back to the C4YW blog for future posts by Kathleen,  and you can also follow her story on her own Blog.

Mary Craige: This is Going to be a Great Year!

As the C4YW Blog starts the new year with a plethora of inspiring writers, we welcome back Mary Craige with her January entry. Be sure to  check back each month, as Mary has bravely decided to keep us up-to-date on her fertility planning and treatment after a breast cancer diagnosis at age 34.  Her strong voice and particular story is one of the many that C4YW strives to represent. Be sure to visit the website and register for this year’s event in Seattle!

That is the statement I start every New Year with, along with a list of two or three attainable resolutions. I am not a ‘I want to lose weight” kind of resolutioner because I try to stay fit and eat healthy all year round. My normal resolutions are usually small things, like “make the bed every morning”. Silly things like that are easy and give you a sense of accomplishment.

This month will mark almost three years since my initial breast cancer diagnosis and two years since I completed treatment. It also marks two years of taking Tamoxifen, the drug I have been taking to keep my cancer from recurring. My fingers are crossed that the annual scans and blood work will show that I am holding steady at “No Evidence of Disease” (NED).

It is also the month I’ve been waiting to arrive for almost two years. When my oncologist released me from active treatment in December 2010, she told me, “In January 2013, we’ll start talking about having another baby.”

Mary Craige

Well, its 2013 and I’m ready to start talking.

There is a lot to do over the next two months. I started with a visit to a new reproductive endocrinologist at the fertility practice my husband I am went to in 2010 to preserve my fertility using IVF. This was a ‘getting to know you’ meeting to discuss risks associated with another pregnancy, my fertility status and potential next steps. After a 45 minute consultation and review of my medical history, I left with a plan…that wasn’t much of a plan.

Cancer seems to always throw a monkey wrench into things. Not that this was a monkey wrench, but it was more of a ‘hold your horses’ moment. Although there is no definitive research saying that pregnancy after breast cancer can cause recurrence, doctors are often reluctant to do anything until a survivor has finished at least three years of Tamoxifen. I just passed year two.

Why stop Tamoxifen before three years? It certainly wasn’t a rash decision, or one that my husband and I made overnight. It was an informed decision but it is also a risky one. Tamoxifen wreaked havoc on me, physically and mentally. It helped push me into early menopause, helped to cause osteopenia and osteoporosis and gave me unbearable nightly hot flashes.

Life on Tamoxifen was challenging. While I understand that five years of hormone therapy is best, I often liken the Tamoxifen regiment to a daily exercise regime. We all know that we should do 30 minutes of exercise daily to stay healthy. Doctors have found that daily exercise decreases our risks of some cancers, heart disease and stroke. Do we always take the 30 minute walk around the block or the daily trek to the gym? Not always, but many of us try. That’s how I think of Tamoxifen. Should I take it every day for 5 years? Probably. I tried my hardest to live with the side effects. I took other drug, I pushed myself physically and adjusted my sleep to try and get through the night without a hot flash. Unfortunately, like many young women, I found the side effects to be difficult to mitigate without other drugs or treatments.

Once my scans and annual blood work are complete, I will revisit my options with my reproductive endocrinologist. Until then, the focus is on getting through those tests with a clear bill of health. Hopefully next January 1st, I will continue with the phrase, “It’s going to be another great, cancer-free year”.

Mary Craige is a wife, mother, daughter, friend and breast cancer survivor. Diagnosed in 2010 when her son was seven months old, Mary found blogging to be an outlet for her feelings about treatment, fertility challenges and survivorship. Since finishing treatment in 2010, she rode in two 200 mile Tour de Pink West Coast rides. The Tour de Pink helped her take her body back after treatment and proved that she could thrive after cancer. Mary currently works as a Content Marketing Manager for a large data company. Come back to the C4YW blog for future posts by Mary, and head over to the C4YW site to check out the wonderful programming for this year’s event, as well as the great deals we’ve put together for airfare and hotel prices.

Natalia Valencia: From Bogota, Colombia to C4YW, Orlando

The C4YW Blog  is very excited to introduce Natalia Valencia as one of our newest writers. Natalia reached out to us to share the important impact that attending C4YW in Orlando (2011) had on her as a non-US resident.  Her strong voice is one of the many that C4YW strives to represent, and we are honored to know that C4YW has a growing reach to women affected by breast cancer. Be sure to visit the website and register for this year’s event in Seattle!

My Name is Natalia Valencia. I was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer the day I turned 32 years old. Today I am 35. I feel fine and am now on tamoxifen and regular checkups, but the worst part, I feel, is over.  I live in Bogota, Colombia, South America. I am happily married, and live in a country house with my 4 cats and my dog. It is very beautiful down here.

Thanks to a travel grant I had the opportunity to participate in the 2011 C4YW that took place in Orlando. It was an experience that changed my perspective on a lot of issues, and that is why I wanted to tell you my story, so you can look at things from a different point of view. This post is probably going to sound like I am complaining, but I am not, I am thankful I am a survivor, I am grateful I am fine, and I never had any complications with my treatment. However, I do want to share the experience as a non US – resident.

Natalia ValenciaEven though medically I felt in the best hands, with great doctors, good nurses and hospitals and clinics, I have to tell you that when I arrived at the C4YW, it was such a shock to me that I (who only cried 2 times during my diagnosis, surgery and treatment) cried for like two hours. You see I constantly read how some of the survivors are “fed up” with October, or pink awareness, or words like struggle, fight, etc., but in my country, there is no talk about it, on a scale of 1 to 10 I would give it a 4. So when I got to the C4YW, there were support groups for women under 45, under 35, with kids, without them, depending on your ethnic group, on the type of breast cancer you had, on the stage, on everything, a support group for Sagittarians, a support group for left handed women (I´m not kidding…well I am, but it felt like they had them).  I felt so alone. I had already been through 17 rounds of chemo, a double mastectomy with (I don’t know the term in English) but they took muscle from my back to cover the implants, and I was not able to take tamoxifen because I had reacted strangely to it. I was the only “young” one in the chemo rounds and apart from a friend which I never talk to, I didn’t know anything about the disease nor had any family member, or close friend who had suffered from any type of cancer, so I felt completely isolated.

The C4YW changed all of that. I gathered so much information, I am still rereading everything, there were talks about nutrition, tamoxifen, fear of recurrence, there was yoga, and a mountain if info, I still visit the websites, etc. When I came back from it, I decided I had been given too much to keep it to myself, so I found the NGO in which I am now a volunteer in, it is a great organization, and we do a lot of work, constantly developing new programs.

As for the C4YW, I keep in touch with some of the women I met there, and every piece of information coming from the conference I devour because there is not the same amount of info here. I just wanted to share with you, that it is better to be “overexposed” than not to have the same resources. I wish all of you Happy Holidays, and I hope next year will bring happiness and prosperity, and of course, health.

Natalia Valencia loveslife and learning,  She also wants to share that she loves her husband, cats, dog, family, friends, music, books, art, humor, ideas and the internet. Be sure to check back to the C4YW Blog for read more about her very specific viewpoint, as a young survivor from out of the country, and you can also check out her personal blog, here. You can find Natalia on Twitter at @natyblooming. 

Vallory Jones: Cancer, You’ve Got the Wrong Girl

As 2013 starts with new opportunities and adventures ahead, the C4YW Blog welcomes Vallory Jones as one of this year’s recurring writers. Be sure to  check back often, as Vallory offers us insight and experience about her diagnosis and life after celebrating her first Cancerversary.  Her strong voice is one of the many that C4YW strives to represent, and we are very excited that she will soon provide us with VLOG entries! (Video blog entries, to be exact!) Be sure to visit the website and register for this year’s event in Seattle!

One evening, I emerged from my shower, ran both of my thumbs down the side of my body, and unknowingly landed on a suspicious lump.  It stopped me dead in my tracks. I sat down and inspected what felt like a BB—pressing it with my fingers and tracing around the hardened outline of its edges.

It was Friday evening, so waiting out the weekend to see my doctor seemed like agony.  By the time Monday rolled around, however, the urgency had faded.  I mean, what were the odds it was cancer, right?  Afterall, I don’t just work out.  I’m dedicated to fitness, and at age 40, I was in the best shape of my life.  I’d committed to a healthy lifestyle because I planned to live a long life, enjoying the adventurous and physically demanding activities I loved, well into my golden years.  No one around me expected me to get cancer, and most certainly not me.  While I wholeheartedly intended to get it checked out, with teaching, the gym, and my social activities, it landed at the bottom of my list.  I simply reminded myself, “I’m a fit, young woman.  I’ll do this when I have some time off.”

Prior to my lump, I either missed or dismissed the warning signs because I had no reason to suspect my body was fighting disease.  Yes, I had noticed my night owl curfew of around 1:00 am had inexplicably turned into I-can-barely-hold-my-eyes-open at 10:00 pm, but I chalked that up to the intensity of my weight training.  And yes, my clockwork periods now showed up whenever they felt like it, but even after detecting the lump, I never connected it.  I was a healthy, active, young woman—not a candidate for breast cancer.

Over a month later, after seeing another young woman, Giuliana Rancic, from E! Network, announce her diagnosis during Breast Cancer Awareness month, I finally made an appointment with my doctor.  When my physician felt the hardness, I could tell by her serious tone that this was not to be taken lightly.  The sense of urgency I felt during the first few moments of my discovery returned, and it saved my life.

She did not waste any time ordering a mammogram and ultrasound, and the following day I found myself in the imaging center.  The doctor reviewing my scans reassured me, “It doesn’t look alarming.  I believe it to be old debri.  I’m 99% sure it’s nothing to worry about, but since we can’t get a clear picture because of your dense breast tissue, we’ll biopsy it just to be safe.”

Waiting for those results was the longest weekend of my life.  The 99% the doctor spoke of echoed in my head, but by this time, I knew.  I don’t know how, but I just did.  Call it intuition.  Call it whatever you like.  I shared my suspicions with a few people, and after several of them told me that I had no possible way of already knowing this news, I dismissed myself as being silly.  With false confidence, I signed onto Facebook and posted, “The doctor says I will have my breast biopsy results in half an hour.”  I convinced myself, again, that it was nothing, and I fully expected to update that post later with, “False alarm, everyone!”  But just as I’d chalked it up to an overactive imagination, I got the call.

Vallory Jones“Vallory?”

“Oh, crap!” I thought.  My doctor was calling with the test results.

“Are you driving?”

My chest tightened.  I was actually backing out of my parking spot at work.  I put the brakes on and replied, “Not yet.”

“I’m afraid it’s not very good news.  You do have breast cancer.”

I don’t recall much else about that conversation other than thinking maybe I just didn’t hear her correctly. At the end of our call, I found myself asking, “So, wait, just to make sure I got this right, what you’re telling me is that I have cancer?”

“Yes,” she replied flatly.

As I sat in my car dumbfounded, I sobbed until my chest hurt.  The reality of what was ahead slapped me hard in the face that afternoon.  Thoughts raced through my head at warp speeds.  I just celebrated my 40th birthday.  I work out five times a week.  I do everything right!  Cancer, you’ve got the wrong girl!  It took me two days to wrestle with the news before I could go back on Facebook and tell everyone, but by that time, I’d formulated a game plan.  Yes, this might get me down—but not for long.  Goodbye cancer, and hello, Victorious Val!

I hope you’ll come back to the C4YW blog for the next part in my series.

Vallory is a breast cancer survivor, Zumba freak, and fitness fanatic.  She has taught middle school English for 19 years and enjoys mountain biking, singing, writing, and playing guitar.  She recently celebrated a milestone, her first Cancerversary. In fact, check out this charismatic and heartfelt video about celebrating this momentous day.