Why the hell not? My life with cancer.

Why the hell not? My life with cancer.

 

Well guys, I guess one can only go so long without being open about something that can be obvious. Something like hair loss, something like chemotherapy. July 6th of this year I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Breast Cancer. My cancer is grade three (an aggressive form)  and tomorrow marks my second round of chemotherapy.

“Jessica, you have a diagnosis and a plan of treatment ALREADY in action.” This is the thought that overpowers any worry, any negativity. For now at least. I remind my loved ones of this because like the saying goes “a facial expression is worth a thousand words.” I am so humbled to be living during a time where medicine can save lives, including my own.

Most importantly, I am so humbled for my past and my many years of battling a different kind of demon- the mental health demon. To those of you who know me, you know I will ALWAYS remain open about my past struggles with an eating disorder, with depression, along with my past and current mental battle with generalized anxiety disorder. Up until July 6th many mental health professionals wanted to know the “why’s” and causes to what “started” my eating disorder.

I have the answer now.

Those preteen years, those teenage years, those young adult years of living with a mind consumed with nothing but self-loath and darkness prepared me mentally and emotionally for having breast cancer at the sweet ripe age of twenty-five. When I reflect back on those years, it still seems surreal where I am today compared to where I was then. Hell, I didn’t even think I’d be alive to make it to graduation. It may be the reason I am still in school, but I don’t regret a thing and I will see this finish line this year, proudly. Today, I view life as a beautiful roller coaster and I am thankful everyday to be present.

Friday night I attended the very popular Edison Park Fest… with a wig. I ran into some people from high school. Naturally, my anxious brain immediately jumped to “OMG they saw on social media that I had short hair. Now I have long hair. THEY MUST KNOW I HAVE CANCER.” That thought… entirely opposite of when I went to one of many doctor appointments this past week just wearing a baseball cap. A girl not much older than me had such a sad, sympathetic look on her face when she made eye-contact with me; with me, the young girl with breast cancer. After two days of wearing the wig (I named her Barbara if you were curious) I can say it is NOT for summer. Summer is already the bane of my existence, and adding that wig raises my body heat to the level of red face, pacing body, non-stop saying “it’s so hot,” type of body temperature. So I can either wear Barb out and be miserably hot, or wear hats and people look at me like I have cancer. So why the hell not? Why the hell not be anything but open about my diagnosis? Why add more anxiety? Why keep it on my chest? LOL boob jokes are a constant thing now by the way. Boob jokes between fellow patients because some loved ones don’t find it as funny. Yet. SHOUT OUT TO MY GIRL GRACE. A beautiful thirty-six year old mother, that I met during my first week of treatment. You are amazing, and I am so lucky to have met you. Humor, weird weird humor is the solution to keeping me going with a smile. Naps too. Anyways,  I was planning on keeping this a secret. With more time and thought I know I can take advantage of being diagnosed so young to raise awareness. Not to scare anyone! To change the stigma that breast cancer only happens later in life.

Lastly-feel free to call me “El” from Stranger Things. I mean, what twenty-five year old doesn’t want to be a twelve year old, fictional character?

Thank you to all of my loved ones, and everyone who has reached out to make all of this so much easier. I love you all.

I will attach a link for anyone who is willing to donate to Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. The money raised goes directly to The American Cancer Society. Donate here

If you would like to join us on the walk, shoot me a message :]

Keep on keeping on you beauties ❤

Looking back, moving forward

Looking back, moving forward

Hi loves! Where do I start?

These past few months since surgery have been nothing short of exhausting. Coaching, working, getting back into a “normal” routine… scratch that. My new “normal” is far from what it’s ever been.

I still receive Herceptin infusions every three weeks until August of 2017 and next week I start the T word. For those of you unfamiliar with what I’m referring to, it’s tamoxifen. I’m triple positive, which basically means that my tumor grew from my hormone receptor cells being like “Hey body, grow these cells like it’s your job, overachieve the average and create a tumor!”and here we are ;] Tamoxifen will block the hormone receptors from the hormones in hopes that I don’t grow a tumor the size of a golf ball again. It is expected that I will be taking Tamoxifen for the next ten years. Along with tamoxifen, my oncologist will slowly introduce my body to another drug, Zoladex. Zoladex will make my ovaries “quiet.” Theses drugs can be harsh on the body and if it begins to hinder my quality of life significantly, my oncologist will talk other options. Common side effects include: weight gain, hot flashes (don’t miss you), bone pain, mood swings, amongst other things. Risk of other diseases, such as other cancers can come about from taking these drugs. Lovely thought, huh?

What else?

I’ve gained seven pounds since I was diagnosed… seven pounds doesn’t seem like much to some of you, especially when the whole pharmacy has been through your body the past six months, but to my sweet little messed up head… seven pounds means that I have lost control. I’ve spent most of my 20’s working on a mindset to let go of that mentality.  I’ve had anxiety since I can remember and these eating disordered thoughts weirdly enough, served my mind almost like a safety net. A place where my mind could focus on something and give myself a sense of control. Weight gain in many eating disordered heads means loss of that “control.”  Call me Dr. Jessica because I believe now that I don’t what’s to happen with my future and cancer, my mind is reverting back to these thoughts, a sick and falsely twisted sense of control and right now, my mind thinks I’m losing, that I am weak. So now, I’m faced with this challenge again. A challenge that I didn’t think I would revisit so soon and sudden.

Don’t get me wrong, I am beyond thankful to have found my tumor, to receive treatment, to live in a time where there are pills that help the chance of recurrence, but God I am scared.

Cancer is a bitch, mental illness is a bitch.

Cheers to this new battle I’m about to face! My history tells me that I can beat this and that’s what I will try and focus on ❤

“It took cancer to find my voice and I won’t stay silent” -speaker at the YSC Summit.

 

 

These Breasts

These Breasts

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Those breasts? The breasts that replaced the cancer along with the tissue from the other breast as a precaution because of the multiple cysts that were benign but that could’ve changed with time. Those bandages? The bandages currently being worn to make sure my incisions heal correctly… & yes, the scars are that long. The lumps on the left breast? It’s from the drain within my breast removing the fluids. I had four after surgery. I had minor complications with the left breast healing so it’s on a little longer than the rest. The extra fat you see near my armpits? I went smaller in breast size so I’m left with excess fat from the breasts that will require yet another procedure to remove it once I’m healed. It’s also a reminder of the breasts that gave me years of insecurity, and clearly cancer. Those implants? The implants take away the ability to ever have the opportunity to breast feed children in the future. That key hanging from my neck? One of the most beautiful gifts that I have ever received. It’s from the Giving Key’s  with the word “HOPE” in the middle. I’m supposed to “embrace the word” and “pay it forward by passing on the key to a person that needs the message more” than myself. Reconstruction surgery isn’t glamorous, and it’s far from easy. However, with this simple reminder perfectly placed near the scars and damage as I’m still healing, is the best reminder to never lose hope, and strive for a better tomorrow & the healthiest possible life.

 (The key was gifted from one of my cancer sisters, Grace) 

Initially posted this on Instagram: jessheleno

 

What’s up, buttercup?

What’s up, buttercup?

HELLO!

It’s been awhile since I’ve lasted posted a blog entry. Big changes have happened since my last post and big changes will be happening over the next few months.

Just over a month ago I finished my last round of ‘hefty’ chemotherapy. I say that because for the next six months I will be receiving Herceptin every three weeks.

Herceptin is used for a variety of breast cancer patients. In my case, I fall under the  HER+ positive people (Human Epidermal growth factor Receptor 2-positive ) along with being high risk. The high risk factors are considered either being  ER/PR-positive with one of the following features: tumor size >2 cm, < 35 years of age, or tumor grade 2 or 3… & guess what!? I have all of those features (5+ centimeters, younger than 35 aaand grade 3 tumor) SUP.

HER2+ is aggressive, but I’m fortunate enough to have Herceptin. It’s been proven beneficial for patients like me. And plus, these infusions will be significantly shorter than my previous treatments.

About a week ago my eyebrows and eyelashes started falling out like it was their JOB. I hopped out of the shower one day, looked in the mirror and immediately said “What the F*CK” (It takes a lot for me to swear so apparently this made me really upset) – I know it’s only hair and blah blah blah, it might sound vain and blah blah blah, but that was probably the only PHYSICAL feature I used to have confidence in- nice brows and long eyelashes. probably have 20% of eyelash and eyebrow hair in comparison what I typically have. So basically now I look like a fuzzy bug-eyed girl rather than my typical hairy bug-eyed girl look.

me
…or this stud.

SHOUT OUT TO MAKEUP. but hey- it’s helping me build confidence in more than one way.

Side note: Don’t make sarcastic jokes to the 6th graders that you coach, they won’t catch the sarcasm and they’ll look mortified that you said such a thing. Or… do it. It was quite entertaining. I LOVE being a coach again.

Up next, I have FINALS before graduating.  I also have all my appointments leading up to SURGERY the 22nd. A colonoscopy is also included this month hahaha okay, life.  ❤  The 21st is my Lymphoscintigraphy. Try saying that twice! LOL JK this mushy brain can’t even say it once. The 22nd will be bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.

LOVE YOU ALL.

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I relate to Cynthia as well. The hair on my head sticks straight up after I shower and I always think of home girl. In reality though, those dots on her head are more representative.
Short & (not so) sweet.

Short & (not so) sweet.

The other day I looked in the mirror, and I didn’t recognize the person staring back at me. Physically speaking, I am exhausted looking, little to no affect, eyebrows that might as well be zebra stripes to name a few; but what I am talking about transcends past the physical features- the toll that chemotherapy takes on a person mentally and emotionally reflects like the days I’d hope to never see again. My darkest days. I’m hesitant to be social because I feel trapped within my own body. Even if I wanted to be present, I often can’t because of how exhausted I am.

Chemotherapy is taking away the cancer, but it’s also taking away other aspects of what once was my daily life. I look in the mirror and see someone hardly present, someone just going through the motions, a person so still and it’s heartbreaking to me. Are these days worth it? Absolutely. It’s these types of days that make me hate everything about cancer. Knowing there are millions of people all over the world going through hell to kill what’s trying to kill us just tugs at my soul. I know at the end of all of this I will come out appreciating life more than I already do, with an even deeper perspective than ever before.

Monday was round five of six! One more to go followed by surgery in December.

I cannot wait for the day where I look back in the mirror and see myself again.

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This genuine smile, this person, this Jessica.

 

 

❤ Love you all & I’m so thankful for everyone that has remained patient and supportive through it all.

Guess who’s back… back again

Guess who’s back… back again

Hello! It’s been almost a month since my last blog, not surprised. Who was the genius that thought being a full-time student, chemotherapy patient, and part-time worker, OH and now 6th grade feeder team basketball coach was a good idea? That’s right, yours truly! Let me tell you, I am exhausted. Many days last week, I was asleep for more hours than I was awake. At the end of the (very long) day, I know that all of this is worth it.

Since I am extremely busy, and tired… and mushy, I haven’t had the inspiration to write in the past few weeks. I also knew that anything I would write during those weeks would be as exciting as watching paint dry. Today is my most “normal” feeling day since last Monday’s chemotherapy so I thought I’d take advantage of this day. What’s new on my end?  I’ve been having extreme stomach/indigestion issues from chemotherapy so they decided to cut back the Taxotere (of TCHP) by a “pinch” in hopes that it would help solve some of the issues. I knew it sounded too good to be true; the only thing that changed from the new regimen was a delayed response. So my REALLY tough days landed on school days. When a classmate said “you look like you’re struggling today,” she was SPOT ON. Struggle bus city. The other change since last blog is the intensity of chemopause. Chemopause is like menopause, but for chemotherapy patients… hot flashes and all. And yes, they’re just as fun as they sound. Being a naked mole rat also makes it very confusing and difficult to stay at a normal body temperature.

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This is the chemopause DREAM. (Picture taken from Young Survival Coalition)

 

The good news from these crazy couple of months? The tumor has shrunken in size SIGNIFICANTLY. It cannot be felt by examination :] Two more rounds to go!

As promised, here are the question’s I received for the AMA:

How did you know you should go to the doctor?

  • Something in my gut (or my severe anxiety ;]) wasn’t feeling comfortable with the lump that I noticed in my breast. I did not believe my OB/GYN when she brushed the lump off like it was nothing. I wanted to shut up my anxiety. As the tests continued, I began to have a weird feeling that it was cancer.

Do you go in weekly for chemo? How many weeks do you have to do it for? When did you start?

  • I go in every three weeks. I’m convinced that it’s every three weeks because it takes that long to start feeling like “normal” again. For me personally, every round becomes more exhausting than the previous one too.  I have six rounds of chemotherapy total, and started August 1st. So come the middle of November, I will be DONE with chemotherapy :] 

What does stage 2 grade 3 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma really mean?

  • This means that I’m a lucky lady :] But really. Though the tumor is larger, 3.1 x 2.2 x 2.7 cm to be exact, it is contained within the breast. “Grade 3 cells look very different from normal cells. They grow quickly in disorganized, irregular patterns, with many dividing to make new cancer cells.” < Which means they are aggressive. I took that directly from breastcancer.org – To find out more about IDC and different breast cancers, click here.

For those of us that are limited in energy or whatever, we want to send to you the best encouragement and support. What helps you most? How can we provide it?

  • I’m a simple lady, every little comment, message, text means the world to me. I am a SUCKER for both giving and receiving cards. So I would have to say sweet words of encouragement, personal letters are my personal favorite ❤

What’s the best thing that has happened to you since your diagnosis?

  • OU GOOD QUESTION. I think one important thing for me, as someone who has always suffered with self-worth issues, is that I have come to realize how many people I have in my corner. I was blown away by everyone who came to join me for the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk. It brought tears to my eyes at one point. I had people join me from almost every stage of my life thus far, and that was really humbling to me ❤
    team
    I LOVE YOU ALL (not everyone pictured) – You all blew me away.

    What are some things that keep your mind sharp after chemotherapy?

  • GOOD QUESTION. I have no idea. I am Queen Mushy Brain. I love to read, but I need energy to read and I have been lacking that as of late. I’ve been thinking of adding podcasts back into my drives… so hopefully that? Short walks help a little too.

If any of you have ANY questions ever, never hesitate to reach out. Please ❤

This song came on in the car today and instantly brought a huge & creepy smile to my face. “Maybe you were made this way, maybe the pieces were intentionally different”

Noah Gundersen – The Difference

 

At the end of the day-

At the end of the day-

 

What a two weeks it has been. Last week was BY FAR the the most difficult week through all of this so far. Everything hit me at once. By that I mean, emotionally, physically, mentally, I got hit by the rock bottom bus.

Monday was my third round of chemotherapy. I am exhausted. I am not myself. Chemotherapy takes away the growth of cancer cells… but it also takes away much more. It takes away energy, personality, sleep, independence, motivation; it takes away who I am.

(it even has taken away about 50% of my eyebrows and eyelashes)

Chemotherapy is like a cocktail. Well in the medical aspect, my cocktail is Taxotere/Carbo/Herceptin/Pertuzumab. In the ‘living’ aspect, it’s always a surprise mixture. Currently I am 70% tired, 30% motivated to do homework. Some days my head is so foggy I can’t even hold a standard conversation.  Some days my head is clear but physically I’m so weak that I do not want to talk. Most days look like this:14423674_10207944407385009_2036926596_o

Too tired to do anything. Watching TV even is out of the picture most days because it requires paying attention which surprisingly takes a lot of energy.

I knew that chemotherapy wasn’t going to be a cake walk, but MAN I didn’t know how exhausting it would be. The fact that I can’t be ‘myself’ is so damn frustrating. I feel like I am nothing more than a lump on log. Thankfully, there are moments (even a day or two) where I’m feeling almost normal and those are the times where I gain motivation. My definition of motivation is slightly different from what it once was, but it will always involve the words “keep on keeping on.”

At the end of the day, cancer and chemotherapy can’t take away my heart. My heart is so full of love for the people by my side, that keep me going, that take me places (literally I don’t have the energy to drive most days), that take care of me, that check in on me. Every single person that has reached out to me, thank you. It helps more than you know. Sending a text can even be difficult for me- so thank you for your patience.

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This beauty finished her last round of chemotherapy on Monday. Thank you for being a role model…. and agreeing that the word ‘moist’ is one of the worst words to ever exist ;] Grace will continue to inspire through the rest of her journey. #teampuffyface

 

 

Breast Cancer with a side of baggage. Part one: The Egg Freezing Experience

Breast Cancer with a side of baggage. Part one: The Egg Freezing Experience

When I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, I was expecting either chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or all of the above. With my specific type of cancer, chemotherapy before all else is recommended to shrink the tumor first. What I wasn’t expecting was everything else that comes along with the diagnosis. In my mind it basically went like this: “Hey you have cancer and since you’re going through chemotherapy, do you want kids in the future ? There is a big chance you will become infertile after treatment.”

Um… what? I may be 25 but being a college student along with my financial status, I cannot picture having kids of my own for AT LEAST 8-10 years. If I decide to have kids that is. I LOVE kids; I work with them and my career will involve working with kids- just the idea of having my own is way out of the picture currently. WAY*

As a sweet little birdie put it (boyfriend’s mom) freezing my eggs is like a “savings account.” It’ll be there if/when I need it.

So then the egg-freezing process started. Insurance doesn’t cover this because I am not proven to be infertile, nor have tried to get pregnant. Christ no I have not tried to get pregnant. So about 4500 dollars later, I had appointments with the specialists every other day to track my treatment progress. Internal ultrasounds and having my blood drawn every other day is as fun as it sounds; especially when the appointments take place bright and early in Evanston. But hey! At least I found out I’m allergic to one of the medications (Letrozole) It looked a little something like this:

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Go big or go home amiright?

 

During the time of retrieval,  they retrieved a lot of eggs. After examining each egg, they keep the ‘good’ ones to freeze. Don’t ask me the exact amount because I have chemo brain and I don’t know what the exact number is LOL. Chemo brain is very very real, it can also be frustrating, but sometimes hilarious. Sometimes I can’t form words and stutter like it’s my job. Thanks chemo, or lack of sleep…or both.

Here’s some more baggage and how I saw it in my mind:

“OH P.S  your hair will fall out, this particular regimen of chemo can cause weight gain and can be very hard to lose and we are going to place a portacath in before you can start chemo.” “PS PS- You like dairy? Too bad, limit it to a very minimum.”

… To be continued on part ii of this blog, next week. I initially had the rest posted here, but it was WAY TOO LONG

❤ Until next time

(Here’s a song that I listen to on those tough days. I love allll types of music. For those of you who don’t know me well, I especially love Pretty Lights. Who knows, maybe this song will help you too. Listen here THANKFULLY I GET MY PL FIX IN CHICAGO THIS MONTH)