Sunday, October 7, 2012

Matters of the Heart

People call me brave and strong and inspirational. Generally speaking, I don't believe these compliments. I am simply trying my best to live a normal life in the face of great adversity, and there are tens of thousands of other patients and caregivers doing the exact same thing every day all around the world. There are hundreds of my blog readers who are just as brave, strong, and inspirational - they simply choose to battle quietly.

Furthermore, I know that all of you who've not been touched by tragedy, when challenged, would behave much the same as I have done.

That said, this week I do feel awfully brave. I am proud of myself. This week I feel like a grown up. I am wearing my big girl pants.

It all started Labor Day weekend. I was having some girlfriends over for brunch and, like any hostess, was rushing around trying to get things in order. Everything had to be perfect, and I was down to the wire. I was rushing around hiding dog toys, putting away laundry, finishing a quiche, arranging flowers. Running these last minute errands, I was running up and down the stairs a lot, and I noticed I had to sit down and catch my breath after each trip upstairs. I felt weak and short of breath. I thought I was perhaps coming down with a flu.

Over the course of the next several weeks, the breathlessness got worse. Lying in bed at night, I would cough uncontrollably. Coughing would wake me up in the middle of the night and I could hear wheezing in my throat. I sounded like I was 90 years old. My dog looked at me with concern and sniffed my face after my coughing fits. Something was wrong.

Monday, September 17th I was due for my third infusion of this new drug cocktail - Herceptin, Docetaxol, and Pertuzumab, and we were getting wonderful news so far. This drug cocktail was working! Over the course of several weeks my tumor markers had fallen from 1,133 to 387 and from 8,813 to 2,762! I was optimistic and encouraged. I was losing my hair, I was coughing and wheezing and feeling sick, but all of this was totally worth it if it meant I was winning!

I expressed concern about my breathlessness to my doctor in the hopes that she would have some prescription medication she could give me to quell the cough. I had tried Vick's Vapo Rub, I had stood in a steaming shower and had taken eucalyptus baths. I was thinking of investing in a humidifier. Nothing had worked so far.

The cough that I thought was not a big deal, apparently could be a big deal, because the doctor got very serious, cancelled my Monday infusion, and booked me for a series of tests on my heart and lungs instead.
The next morning at 7am, I showed up for an Echo cardiogram (read ultrasound) of my heart. I have had Echos before and always passed with flying colors. I saw this as a precaution and was looking forward to receiving my miracle drug on Wednesday after passing this silly test. I drove myself to the appointment. I don't even think I told Big Man or mom about the appointment because I simply assumed it was a precaution. Boy, was I wrong.

Two hours later, I was in an ambulance being rushed to Brigham and Women's Hospital for emergency heart surgery.

The Echo technician told me I had fluid around my heart, also called a pericardial effusion. The fluid was pressing on my heart, making it difficult for my heart to beat, which explained my breathlessness and general fatigue. I was in a daze, more concerned about what was going to happen to my car that had been left at the Echo location than what was going on in my chest. I was strapped onto a guerney, and reluctantly asked the EMT to pass me my cell phone. I said to the EMT, "I suppose I should call my husband and my mom, huh? This pericardial whatever is going to take probably a few hours to handle, right?"

He looked at me like I had three heads and responded, "Yeah it's going to take at least all day today, ma'am."

"Really, all day? Are you sure? Because I really don't want to have to call in sick to work? I had a really full day."

The EMT looked around the back of the ambulance in the hopes of finding some help dealing with the insane cardiac patient. "Ma'am, you are being rushed to the hospital for emergency heart surgery. I think you need to take a day off work. You should probably call....everyone."

Emergency heart surgery? What in the world? I'm 29! I feel fine, I swear!

It wasn't until I started making phone calls that reality set in. As I spoke to Big Man and said, "You need to come to the Brigham. I have fluid around my heart." That was the moment when my voice cracked and I broke down. The EMT looked relieved.

Big Man fled from work, his boss agreed to dog sit (we love you, Bee!), my mom was booked on the next flight from Baltimore to Boston.

Just when we thought progress was being made in my fight against cancer, it turns out this sneaky beast had gotten right to the heart of the matter. My cancer has metastasized to my heart. Even though the drug cocktail was working on my liver so beautifully, it is possible for a drug to work on one organ and not on another. Doctors called this a "mixed response."I had been afraid of cancer for years, but never before had the fear struck so deeply, and felt so serious. I had cancer in my heart? I didn't even know that was possible!? My heart, the very thing that makes me this small, passionate, headstrong young lady. My heart, that beats so strongly when I get hugs from my husband. My heart that feels like its going to burst when I watch my niece Annabelle waking up from a nap. My heart....the door to my soul, my very essence, that thing that we just assume will always keep beating. My heart has cancer. Wow.

The doctors put a drain into my pericardium - the thin lining around my heart. They drained out 600 millileters of fluid. The young residents were in awe of me, "how were you doing yardwork and taking the dog for a walk with 600 mL around your heart? I'm surprised your still standing! Man, 600mL." The cardiac surgeons were more professional, "You had a 'rather large' pericardial effusion."

To make matters worse, during my heart surgery and the battery of tests before and after surgery, they saw a build up of fluid in the sac around my lungs - that would also need to be drained.

I had two surgeries and spent more than a week inpatient in the hospital. The whole week was a complete blur. I went into the hospital a "relatively" healthy 29 year old who had just spent Labor Day weekend sitting poolside in a bikini. I left the hospital with a clear plastic tube hanging from the right side of my abdomen. A permanent drain that was inserted into the lining of my lungs. It will clear out any more fluid from my heart and lungs that the cancer deposits there. I suppose I should load up on one-piece suits and finally part with those midriff baring cut-off t-shirts I have held onto since college!

I also left the hospital with a new appreciation for how I do NOT want to spend my last few months of life. I want to fight this cancer with all that I have. I want to exhaust every possible clinical trial and FDA approved drug. As long as I can stay in fighting form, I will fight with all the might my impaired little heart can muster, but I do not want to end up saying goodbye to my family from a hospital room, in a strange itchy bed with lots of beeping machines, fluorescent lighting, and no view from the window to speak of, where the only company is coming from Dr. Phil on the small tv screen in the corner. No, I want to say goodbye in the comfort of my own home, the home that I have fought so long and so hard to establish with my Big Man. My home that is full of my smells and my love and my sweat and tears. There is really no place like home.

I am home now and am so happy and content. You all aren't going to be getting rid of me just yet. I am getting comfortable with this Pleurx drain. I can empty it myself now and it doesn't hurt as much as when they first inserted it. More importantly, now that I am actively draining this fluid, I no longer get breathless or cough uncontrollably. I am starting to cook and clean and play with the dog as before. Also, oddly enough, even though my heart and lungs almost gave out on me  last week, my liver is functioning beautifully! I have been accepted into a clinical trial! We just started this week and I'm feeling really optimistic about the sounds of these drugs. More to come on that front as we learn more in the coming weeks, but just know that I am still fighting.

Next weekend is the 2012 Susan G. Komen Washington DC 3-Day. With the support of an incredible organization called Check Your Boobies, a non-profit organization I started working with last year that educates women about breast health in a frank, fun, and fear-free manner, I have reached my $2,300 fundraising goal! My mom, my younger brother, my uncle and cousins, my dear friends from Concord, MA, from Baltimore, MD, and from Florida, we are all walking together on team Million Dollar Babies, and come hell, high water, or even heart surgery, I will be walking with them! I leave this Wednesday evening for the DC walk. I get tired really easily as I am still recovering from the surgery, so I'll probably only walk a little bit each day, but I plan on crossing the starting line Friday and crossing the finish line every single afternoon, hand in hand with my family and friends. I'm still here, still fighting, still loving, laughing, and, above all, I am still living... fully.... with cancer.

As October begins, a new chapter in my cancer journey has also begun. Yet again I am humbled by this disease. Yet again, my journey has gotten even harder, and yet I've come through it and found myself back at home surrounded by love and comfort and I'm feeling good when I wake up in the morning. I don't know how or when this story will end, for a minute there in September I thought my story was over, but because of Pleaurx catheters and good doctors and clinical trials that all of you have made possible, I'm still hopeful. I still have a little more time. I'm not giving up.

I hope none of you give up either. If I can continue to cook dinner, work full time, and strive for a personal best on the Susan G. Komen 3-Day, surely each of you can do something with your day or with this month, or with the rest of this year that will positively impact the fight against cancer.

I can't wait to update you at the end of this month with good clinical trial news, because I know my heart is strong enough to fight the cancer that has taken up residence there. 

56 comments:

Floyd said...

You kick butt, girl! You had me giggling with the thought of being in the back of an ambulance asking if you had to take the day off of work! I can't imagine how surreal the whole journey must have felt (and still feels!).

Keep up the great attitude. I'm rooting for you! You're in my thoughts.

Mcseknitter said...

Wow wow wow Bridget!!! My thoughts are with you!

Love,
Eileen

Nicole said...

Bridget you are AMAZING! Your bravery is such an inspiration to our 3-Day community and always remember we're here to support you every step of the way. Your last statement about how surely people can take time in the fight against cancer is spot on! If only the rest of the world had your courage and fight.

Take care and best of luck in DC! We're rooting for ya!

XO Nicole

Mandy @LastMinuteMandy said...

I will be at Grab and Go A in DC, Briget. If you make it there, I will be waiting there, with pearls on, to give you a delicate hug - or kiss on the cheek - and to thank you for you dedication to Komen and your amazing spirit. You are awesome!

Pink Baby Lee said...

See you in DC, girlie!!! Keep fighting the good fight. Big PINK hugs, and lot of LOVE, Lisa XOXO....

Patty Mellon said...

Love you, Bridget. Think of you every day. All of a sudden I wish I was crewing in DC again this year. You and the Million Dollar Babies will rock it. You know how much love and support you have - we will all be there with you in spirit.

Thank you for sharing. Your story inspires us all to do and be more.

All my Love,
Patty Mellon

Susan Zager said...

Wow Bridget you are amazing. I can't believe you were in an ambulance saying how you had to get to work while you were being taken in for heart surgery. Your optimism while you are fighting cancer is so uplifting. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

tonimonigirl said...

You are awesome and truly an inspiration to me, my survivor sister! Keep on keeping on and know that you are in my thoughts and prayers very often, sweetie! Sending you lots of love and hugs, and can't wait to hear some more good news from your latest trial...

Stay strong and fight hard!

Toni

tonimonigirl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jenny said...

I think the new diagnosis was the only thing that surprised me in this post. Of course you were in the back of an ambulance worrying about work. Of course you've put on your big girl pants yet again. Of course you have shown us (yet again) how to truly live in the face of any struggle.

Enjoy every minute of DC. You already know that my favorite walks are the ones where I've done the least miles... Like 2012 BO! Because that time not walking also turns into wonderful once-in-a-lifetime memories with those around you.

Shad said...

Kick some asphalt in DC Bridget! You continue to be an inspiration to all of us. You have a team from Minnesota as well. Go get'em!

Shad

Jennifer R said...

All my love Bridget25. Always

Erin Hayes said...

Bridget, you beautiful pink warrior! Lifting you up in prayer, love and positive thoughts today and every day! Miss you girl! xo, Erin Hayes

Erin said...

Found out about your blog last year from a friend of yours that I work with. Anyway, I just want to say that you are so strong and such an inspiration with the way you are facing your cancer. Sending prayers your way as you begin this new trial.

meags said...

Bridge the midge, you are fighter! It comes from being the only girl in a sea of brothers. Love and prayers from your 6309 Neighbor.

Liliana Holtzman said...

You are a very special person, Bridget! I send you love and lots of hugs.
Liliana

Anonymous said...

Bridget,

Wow, just wow. You are amazing.

I have to say that after watching my mom in the Brigham for over 10 days for pain control this summer, I can appreciate both the wonderful work they do...and your desire not to go back.

Everyone there does their best, and the job they did for my mom was nothing short of miraculous; still, hospitals are by their nature beeping, blinking, uncomfortable, crowded, and public.

I hope the clinical trial gives you more than a mixed response and that you have many more good days ahead.

Karen B. said...

Bridget - my heart breaks for you! You are amazing. Keep up the good fight and thanks for updating. You are truly inspirational. I look forward to reading your next post. Good luck with the Komen walk.

Gentle Hugs,
Karen

Jay Furr said...

Bridget, you're in our prayers and we're rooting for you. I know you're dealing with more crap than anyone should ever have to face in one lifetime.

I'll be in DC this weekend crewing. I hope to see you and I know you're going to inspire a lot of people with your courage and strength.

Bridget said...

And for you, dear one, we walked Philly this weekend and will be cheering D.C. next weekend. I hope that the part that you can walk will take you by our private cheering station in Freedom Plaza on Friday and by Saks (oooh! who wouldn't love that!) on Saturday. Pearls to you, Bridget!

Mandi said...

I love the quote:

"Really, all day? Are you sure? Because I really don't want to have to call in sick to work? I had a really full day."

Sounds all too familiar. Best to you Bridget.

melanie goes pink said...

Bridget I will be walking with my pearls on in DC this weekend!!! You continue to be in my prayers, and I hope to see you there!!

kristeneileen said...

My friend and former co-worker on the Komen for The Cure BC 3-Day: You are a bright light in a difficult world. Brig - I believe in you. I believe in your heart. I can still remember feeling it beating the last time we were close enough to hug. I miss you and I want you to know how very brave and strong you truly are. Love from me to you, always - Kristen

Heather A said...

I'm almost rendered speechless after reading what you've been through. Big Girl Panties FOR SURE!

I SO wish for a wonderful result with this clinical trial. I wish for magic. I believe in magic. We've all seen a little magic so I wish it for you.

Emily Wheeler said...

I've been reading your blog for inspiration since my own Stage IV colon cancer diagnosis this past January. Thinking of you, a lot! <3

Anonymous said...

You are very inspirational. You are in my thoughts. I have read your blog for a long time but never commented before. I will do more this day and month because of your influence. Best wishes.

lilo126 said...

I hit $10,000 for a cure for you. I wish there was more I could do. Sending you a virtual hug and will give you a real one in DC this weekend. Your friend in the fight, Priscilla

Heidi said...

You are such great writer. Thank you as always for sharing your journey with all of us. If you can do it ALL and fight this cancer with all your might, then I'm sure there is more that I can do!! Thanks for the inspiration. Big virtual hugs...

Anonymous said...

You are a true inspiration! Will be praying for you and can't wait to see the pictures from the 3 Day.

Michelle Meyer said...

Bridget you are amazing, aspiring, tough, a big girl, but remember its ok to be that little too. I was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer at 37. It had grown so large that it started when I was 27. In 2010 it came back and spread and now I'm in stage IV. I've been through several surgeries, chemo, radiation, the first study didn't work so were hoping this second one days. I am now 47 and have been fighting 10 and sometimes I get tired. The most thing is to know its ok to be tired. Have your rest even if its a little pitty party. That's ok because you're going to get right up and do what you do. That's what I do. I have never met you but you are on my heart and I will be praying every single day for you Bridget, I promise. Sweet Dreams xoxoxo Michelle L Meyer, St. Louis

Anonymous said...

I wish you the best of luck in life and hope all your goals and dreams come true.
Enclosed are some poems for inspiration.

Best of Luck On Your Goals

I am sure you will accomplish the many goals you set out to achieve.
You are a determined smart and independent individual that is fair and compassionate.
You are outgoing and get along well with others.
Even though life throws us curves, you will stay on course and bring sunshine to others even when the rain clouds are storming.
I wish you the best in all you do.

A Guide A Teacher

Motivates by assisting and teaching others to be their best.
Educating today’s youth to be tomorrow’s leaders.
Has words of wisdom. Like a sailor on a voyage.
Through the calm and stormy days,
You’ll be the guiding light.
Has dedication that exceeds expectations.
Like spring each day is a new beginning.

Distinctions Of Music And Love

Music like love can bring many a feeling to you.
It can put chills through your body, tears in your eyes and pain in your heart and soul.
Music can give you a natural high and then bring you down to your knees.
When you hear certain songs you are reminded of people and places you have known and seen.
It reminds you of people you have liked and those who you will only be with in your dreams.
The beauty of a song like the beauty of a love can be two of life’s biggest ups and downs.
They are both works of art with uniqueness and beauty that radiates out and has messages deep within.
Russell



Anonymous said...

Just saw you on a commercial and felt compelled to find out your story.
Fight on Girl!!!!!!! Here's one more person sending positive thoughts and prayers into the universe for you!

toots1956 said...

Thank you, Bridgett! You were the inspiration I needed today. Prayers for you always.

nicole tyler said...

Bridget, you are a brave brave person. My heart goes out to you. I would love to send you a pink ribbon quilt to share my warmth and comfort during your journey. Just visit my website and write to me and I will send you some comfort.
www.thepinkangel.weebly.com

Anonymous said...

If you posted 5 times a day, I'd read you 5 times a day. Love you Bridget...you're one of a kind.

Deborah Hernley said...

I first saw your ad in Prevention. Then, I saw you again and again. I thought to myself, " who is this adorable little power house poppin' up all over the place?". I just want you to know that after reading your blog, I am in awe of you. May God bless you and your family with health and happiness.

Elicia said...

Bridget, as the tears cloud my eyes and my heart tries to understand all this, I have but only this to say....I love you and thank you for not giving up.

With much love and admiration,
Elicia

Lori Dusek said...

Saw your Komen PSA and was captured - googled you and found your blog. I was diagnosed stage 2 but after 13 years of ups and downs, I'm stage IV and fighting. I can so relate to what you are dealing with! Thanks for putting yourself out there - although I cried when I read your posts, it makes me feel better to realize I'm not alone. I'm sending you a hugs and prayers from Texas!
Lori

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Thanks for sharing Bridget
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Katya said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bridget said...

Dear Katya,

Your post is not appropriate for this venue. Please do not comment further on the blog. I am of the mind that everyone struggling with cancer has her own journey to discover. Peddling treatments and "cure finders" are not helpful, and frankly can be upsetting for patients at an already upsetting time. I am removing your post, and will keep an eye out for posts in the future. Please take your posts to another, more appropriate venue.

Good luck with your work endeavors.

Connie said...

Bridget...Crewed The Arizona 3 Day this past weekend because of your commercial. What a gift. Thank you again for changing my life forever.

sarah@menarecaregivers said...

Dear Bridget,
I recently met someone at Ojas Spa who recommended I contact you about a study I am conducting for couples coping with or surviving breast cancer.
Our website is www.MenAreCaregivers.com

The survey can be filled out online at www.MenAreCaregivers.com and takes about 40 minutes. We are sending every caregiver and their breast cancer patient a thank you gift and raffling off Visa Gift cards.

Can you please send me your email or email me?!

We would love your help finding men to fill out the online survey. Could you possibly post it?

I love your website and blog and am deeply touched by your story.
Many thanks
Sarah
Sarah@MenAreCaregivers.com

Laura said...

Bridget,
I have sporadically followed your story since we met not long after your first dx at "Breast Friends". You continue to inspire by living out your dreams in spite of this tough battle you've been fighting. I'm glad to have met you. I wish you all the best health.
Your sister in survivorship,
Laura Poffenberger

Thandi said...

Here's hoping that you and Big Man are ok and that you're getting lots of time to see those smiles of your cute niece.Holding out for a miracle...

Nicole McLean said...

What an incredible story. I am so glad that I found your blog today. I was searching for stories about women with breast cancer who get married after their diagnosis and I found you. This post touched me deeply. My pink ribbon sister... you ROCK!

Thank you for sharing.

kas said...

Bridget, I just want to let you know that I think about you and pray for you everyday. My BF has been a Breast Cancer fighter for 13 years. (I found your blog while I was looking for ways to support her when she had to go into battle mode again. She is a mega fighter like you.)
God Bless you and your husband and doggie. Take good care.

Sharon Wright said...

It is Christmas morning. I awoke and first went to your blog. I offer my heart to beat with yours as you move through this. My embrace warm and loving wraps around you. You are starlight and fir trees. Bear and Dear walk beside you. You are radiant, Gorgeous One.

I will look for you, Friday, January 18, at Dana. Have an 11:45 appointment.

Big, Powerful Love, Sharon Wright xooxoxo

Anonymous said...

Bridget, you have been on a long challenging and inspirational journey which my family and friends have been a part of by being involved in the Breast Cancer 3 day. Your spirit has filled our hearts and souls which we will carry with us forever.
Your legacy will continue on as you enter into the waiting arms of The Lord.
God bless you on your journey.

Anonymous said...

Your story is very inspirational. I know you have put up a brave and valiant fight. I hope your days on earth are filled with love and peace! I know your wondrous and beautiful spirit will live on forever!

Gene said...

Thank you, Bridget, for allowing us to be a part of your journey. Your life has made such an impact on the world, and I am humbled to have been even just a small part of it.

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