April 4, 2007

A Sad and Happy Story

The good news is that everything is going to be okay.

I debated and I thought for quite a while about weather or not I wanted to share this story with the general global community and have eventually decided yes…

As a public health student and professional, I realized that I have developed a “knowledge will protect me? attitude. That if I can just know enough about a topic then I will be protected from the ravages of that disease or bad health exposure.

About 5 weeks ago ago my mom went to the doctor to schedule her colonoscopy and also mention a lump that she could feel in her breast. She has had fairly regular mammograms over the last 14 years, but because of “dense? tissue in her breasts the last scan did not detect a smaller version of this lump. The mammogram revealed a mass in her right breast that was fairly large (about 3cm). The day before her biopsy she finally told me what was happening. I was heartbroken, but placed a great deal of my faith in the low chance of having a lump biopsy come back positive for cancer. The days of waiting in between the biopsy and the results were torturous and nerve wracking.

The Friday that spring break was starting I was at the airport waiting for my plane to take me home to Seattle. I called my mom to find out if she had the biopsy results yet and she sounded like she had been crying. I knew right then that the tests were not what we had hoped for. We cried alot those first few days and then got over the sadness and on to fighting the battle. Further diagnostics revealed that there were two tumors which may or may not be bridged, and still further diagnostics revealed two more tiny tumors in her right breast and a suspicious area in her left breast.

Initially the plan had been to do chemotherapy, breast conserving surgery, and then more chemo/radiation. But once they discovered that there were several tumors and that they were widely dispersed in her breast, they decided that mastectomy was the only option. My mom decided as soon as they told her she had breast cancer that if they had to remove one breast, then they were going to remove both of them. She firmly believes that breasts are for one thing, breast feeding, and they served that purpose a long time ago.

They had my mom scheduled for anesthesia on the 23rd to do her sentinel node biopsy and to install a port for chemo. Since she was already going to be knocked out, they decided to do the double mastectomy at the same time. So just two weeks after she found out she had cancer, she had a double mastectomy. Everything has just been moving so fast it's hard to keep my wits about me.

The pathology results from the surgery came back last Tuesday. We were thrilled to learn that there is no nodal involvement with her tumor which indicates there probably isn't any metastasis of the cancer! Hooray! They also learned in dissecting her breast that the two larger tumors were bridged and so her tumor will be registered in the cancer registry as an "Invasive ductal, stage 3 5cm tumor that is Estrogen/progestin receptor positive and HER2 negative."

She is going to do 4 rounds of chemotherapy and will start that in about 2 or 3 weeks depending on how fast she continues to heal from her surgery. I hope to be able to go home and visit her sometime in the next month or so.

I've been really glad that I have been able to help my mom navigate the health care system a little even though I am so far away. And I've been able to help her understand all of the research literature that's out there and interpret that they mean. She has a really great friend support network at home and my Aunt from California has been able to take time off work and helped my mom through the toughest parts of the surgery recovery.

The moral of the story is: Remember the saying of "cobblers children wear no shoes" If you are a health professional, don't forget that those near and dear to you need screening just as much as the next person. Make sure you encourage your older friends and family to stay current on their health care screenings and to see a doctor if they feel like something isn't right with their bodies.

Had my mom not gone in to see the doctor about the lump she felt, a few more months might have been the difference between no metastasis and metastasis. Luckily it looks like we managed to get hit with just a few bullets, but dodged some other larger artillery.

Since all this has happened we have also done alot of thinking about our family history of breast cancer, what was said and what wasn't said. When my grandma was 52, she felt a lump in her breast and went in for a lumpectomy. When she woke up from anesthesia she only had one breast! No one had even asked her if that was what she wanted, they just did it (thank goodness for progress in informed consent procedure). I don't think they ever told her if the mass in her breast was cancerous or not, so we can only assume that it might have been. It was never said that my great grandmother died of breast cancer, but in trying to remember some of the stories my grandma used to tell about her mother, it seems like that might have been what happened to her. I'm considering asking to be screened for the BRCA genes just to confirm my own curiousity about weather I have the gene or not. I'm already planning on heightened screening, so knowing if I have the gene would just be for curiousity's sake more than anything.

So anyway, just thought I would share my story. Maybe some of you have gone through the same sort of thing and felt the same sorts of feelings of helplessness, or maybe this can just give you something to think about as another aspect of your professional careers bumping into your personal life.

February 9, 2007

How I came to be here...

Well, I’ve been saying for a while that I wanted to write about how I decided to come to Minnesota for grad school and I’ve finally got a moment when I can devote a while to doing the story justice.

I started picking out which programs and schools to apply to in the fall of 2005 in preparation for starting graduate school in the fall of 2006. I ended up applying to 5 schools. The 5 finalists were University of Washington, University of Minnesota, University of Arizona, University of Illinois Chicago and Ohio State University.

I spent quite a bit of time trying to decide which programs to apply to. I knew that I wanted to apply to a school of public health masters level program, but I was pretty torn between biostats, epi, and health services. I ended up choosing to apply to the EPI MPH program because I thought it would fit best with what I wanted to get out of graduate school. After I thought a lot about what I wanted to do, I decided that what I really wanted out of my masters program was to learn as many analytical and study design skills as I can so that when I go out into the work force I can work on many different areas of public health and have the toolkit of skills I will need to do many different aspects of study design and analysis.

Looking back I’m not really sure I spent as much time choosing the schools I would apply to as I should have. I’ll admit that my first choice was not the U of M, though I am quite happy with it as my final choice. My first choice was the University of Washington because it’s a good school and I’m from Seattle so I wanted to stay there with my family and friends, but my grades weren’t quite good enough to get in there. As for the other 4 schools, I did get in to all of them, but for several reasons, the U of M definitely came out waaay on top of the other schools. The application for UofM was a million times better than any of the other schools I applied to. I heard back about my admission about a month and a half after I sent in my application and the student services office was always available for questions and super helpful in terms of directing me to people that could answer my questions. That combined with the fact that U of M is a highly ranked school clinched my decision.

I didn’t actually visit the U of M campus before I accepted my admission here because I didn’t have time to schedule a trip. It worked out fine, but I was a little nervous about moving out here having never been to Minnesota.

If you’re reading this and you are a prospective student, please feel free to leave me a message and I’ll try to answer your question or point you to the person who can!

January 19, 2007

Christmas Break

okay, I said would post pictures from Christmas break, so here they are! Now that classes have started again I'll have some more school related stuff to talk about. I think I'll do my next entry on the classes I'm taking this semester (though honestly they haven't even all met yet for the first time!) :-) and I'm also going to post some stuff about how I decided on U of M for graduate school.

We got a really good family photo while I was home in Spokane for Christmas. My mom is a gardener for the city of Spokane. One of the things she worked on this year was the decoration of the conservatory with Christmas lights. Every year they string every single plant in the conservatory with lights. They have even come up with ways to light the really flimsy plants. So while we were there someone took a picture of us on the bridge over the little pond in the greenhouse. It is such a nice picture!

Family Photo
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My big project over vacation was making this decoupage decorated box for Adam for Christmas. I took pictures from the past 3 years and effectively made a giant collage on a box, but it looked really cool when it was done!

Box for Adam
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Our neighbor in Spokane was in a really horrible car accident about a year ago. She has two cats, so my mom has been taking care of them while our neighbor has been living at a rehabilitation place. One of the cats has decided that she really likes to be inside and be getting into EVERYTHING! here is a picture of her getting into the Christmas tree, which she found soooo fascinating.
Christmas Tree Cat
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While we were in Seattle we went out for one of my favorite foods- conveyor belt sushi! We had a dinner date with our friends Christie and Nick. You can see the cool conveyor belt full of yummy sushi in the background.

Christie and Adam at the sushi place
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Well, the highlight of Christmas break was getting to spend 2 weeks in Seattle with Adam. I know I've said it a million times, but it's true. Below is cute picture that I took while I was in Seattle. Adam is going to come to Minneapolis to visit at the end of January. I'm hoping that we will be able to go to the St. Paul Winter Carnival to see the ice carving and other such things.

Cute Pic of Annie and Adam
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