- The Beginning – April 1st 2009
- Surgery - May 14th
- Recovery - May
- More Bad News - June
- THE HAIR - August
- TRAINING A FRIEND
- LAST DAY OF CHEMO - October 27th 2009!
My cancer story is one of uniqueness. Leave it to me to do something like cancer to its fullest. It did not begin with a Mammography diagnosis or a lump. My journey began about 4 years ago with some suspicious activity that turned into Paget’s disease – Paget's disease of the nipple is an uncommon type of cancer that forms in or around the nipple. Paget's disease of the nipple is almost always associated with an underlying breast cancer. Scientists do not know what causes Paget's disease of the nipple, but two major theories have been suggested for how it develops. Symptoms of early-stage disease may include redness or crusting of the nipple skin's symptoms of more advanced disease often include tingling, itching, increased sensitivity, burning, or pain in the nipple – of the nipple which signaled the underlying cancer. On April 1st I found out about my breast cancer through a biopsy that came back as positive for Paget’s disease. The onslaught of tests, learning, and decisions were dizzying. I immediately went for an evaluation of the suspicious tissue and had to begin making decisions for my mastectomy. I quickly learned there is a test called the BRAC Analysis – a blood test that can let you know your risk for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Knowing your risk can help you Be Ready Against Cancer–so you can take steps to reduce your risk – which is a genetic test for breast and ovarian cancer. Finally, a piece of good news for me, I did not have the gene.
Now it was time to make decisions about my mastectomy and how I was going to handle reconstruction. I discussed my options with my boyfriend Brian, friends, family members, and even my principal/boss. I read books, searched the Internet, and contacted people I know and knew from my past that had been directly affected and that I thought might have answers for me. The outpouring of love, encouragement, and help during this process was overwhelming. After meeting with four different doctors, two surgeons and two plastic surgeons, I decided to go with immediate reconstruction and was lucky enough to find two wonderful doctors. They were willing to work together, just because I wanted them to, even thought they had never done so before. My surgery was scheduled for mid May.
My mental preparation at this point was very important. I had to scrap any idea of competing in triathlons for the rest of the year and focus on a positive attitude of getting better. I stopped thinking about what I wasn’t going to able to do and started thinking about what I could do, that I was alive and kept my mind on the fact that so many others had made it before me.
I was prepared by the doctors, survivors, and literature to be “down” for several weeks after my surgery. I even took the rest of the school year off. My surgery went well and I was out of the hospital the next day. A few friends came to visit while I was in the hospital and my principal and vice principal brought the most wonderful picture of the faculty wearing pink for me. I can only imagine what it looked like at Thornton Elementary on that day in May 2009, a sea of pink all for Brandi Shipman. Shortly after their visit, I received a text from my friend Margie Massey. My friends from the gym wore pink for me that day as well. The support brought tears to my eyes. I was so excited to come home and be comfortable in my own home. I just wish the stupid drain that was attached could have stayed at the hospital. The pain from that was worse than the pain from the mastectomy.
Once I got home, I slept and watched a lot of T.V. Friends visited and brought yummy food and my favorites I am not supposed to eat. I ate them all. My friend and co-worker set up a cancer care calendar that alerted anyone who logged on when I was having a doctor’s appointment or when I was in need of anything. I felt like royalty as everyone took care of me. I think Brian secretly enjoyed the fact that he wouldn’t have to cook for me each night. My recovery was quicker than I thought as I was doing my best to get better and get the stinkin’ drain out of my skin. I was out walking within a week and running within 3 weeks. I couldn’t believe my recovery. I know it was from all the prayers, love, and good care from Brian and the loved ones around me. Life was looking better each day.
In the beginning, I was told I would not have to go through chemo which was news to my ears. I did not want lose my hair and be sick. That was all I knew of chemo patients, sickness. I didn’t want to get pale, skinny, and weak looking. The gavel came down like a ton of bricks on my stomach. My Oncotype DX – Since not all women benefit from chemotherapy equally, the Oncotype DX assay is a 21-gene assay that provides an individualized prediction – came back as HER-2 positive – a gene that sends control signals to your cells, telling them to grow, divide, and make repairs. A healthy breast cell has 2 copies of the HER2 gene. Some kinds of breast cancer get started when a breast cell has more than 2 copies of that gene, and those copies start over-producing the HER2 protein. As a result, the affected cells grow and divide much too quickly. This is a diagnostic test that measures the activity of the cancerous tissue. Mine was apparently pretty active (go figure). Like I said in the beginning, I don’t do things the normal way. HER-2 positive breast cancer is found in 25% of the women diagnosed. This meant I had to have chemo. This was the second time I cried and had an attitude check for how to deal with what was happening.
Well, the chemo started against my wishes, but it was better than the alternative. I called a high school friend who has also been through cancer and offered to help me through this emotional time. Thanks Amy! I got the low down on my biggest fear… losing my hair. She told me her hair started falling out two weeks to the day after her first treatment. I cut my hair short and waited. Sure enough, it started falling out. It was actually quite comical. Let me tell you why. It was not coming out in clumps, but rather sprinkles. I did not get huge bald spots, just thinning hair. A nice wind made my hair fly through the breeze and away like a butterfly. I knew it was time to shave it. What an ordeal! I had fun with it. My pictures tell the story. No tears because I knew it was coming. So, I just decided to have fun and document the process. I started using the clippers with Brian’s help, and then we did a Mohawk. The last part we left a tiny scrap up front for a pony tail. Finally, we cut that off too. My hair was gone, but not my smile.
Keeping my mind off me!
The story goes a little something like this. One of my dear friends, Darci, called me for advice on a 10k run. Mind you, this girl is as fit as anyone I know, but she is NOT a runner. She tells me she wants to do a 10k run and wants to know how to train. I ask her if she would like to train with me for the San Antonio ½ marathon in November. It did not take her long to say yes, and we were on our way. We started out with a VO2 test and she bought a heart rate monitor/GPS watch. Let the fun begin! She complained a little bit, but saw results quickly. That is, until she dropped a knife on her toe and was out for a few weeks. No problem for a coach. I reassured her that she would be fine and be able to run in no time. She came back with a vengeance and completed the Tex Med ½ marathon in October, then the San Antonio ½ marathon in November. I was so proud of her and all the hard work she put into her goal. AND, it did keep my mind of me.
Surgery and chemo are a huge downer for training. I was not giving in to the tiredness and kept training through it all. I did scale back on the miles and intensibrandi_runningty which was not easy for me, but it enabled me to keep going through the whole process. I was able to compete in a triathlon on August 16th, just over a week after my second treatment. My bald head made me all that much faster! I did not break any land speed records, but it was great to be out there competing. That would be my only triathlon during my treatments.
Wow! This was a big deal for me. Because I was training my friend, I wanted to run with her. So, I decided to run two ½ marathons. The Tex Med ½ marathon was in October, just two days after my fifth chemo treatment, and the other was the San Antonio Rock and Roll ½ marathon in November, about two weeks after my last treatment. The feeling I had when coming across the finish line was amazing. I took my hat off and ran with pride. I had done it. My time wasn’t pretty, but I finished. The San Antonio Rock and Roll was even more difficult. The humidity that day sent several runners to the hospital and slowed others down. I was able to finish and didn’t feel that bad. I even did some stretching after with Nydia from Nydia’s yoga.
My last day of full chemo was the best day. I knew that was the beginning of a new chapter for me. It was time for my body to heal and let my hair grow back. As I drove home, I thought about the other treatments and knew that even though they were hurting my body, they were also helping me. Or, as my friend’s daughter, Dylan, would say, I was "beatin' those cancer bugs!" (LOL)
Upward and onward!