Ellen's Breast Cancer Fight
I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma on Oct 20, 2015. In my left breast lives an aggressive tumor that has spread to a lymph node. I noticed it when weaning the twins. They started rejecting the left side during feedings and I began to produce less and less on that side, so I decided to stop using it altogether, despite continuing to nurse them on the right side.
I've read that your milk can take on a funny bitter taste when cancer is present, so my girls really helped to accellerate the process of finding this bugger.
I noticed after weaning the left side that my breast never returned to normal. Typically the breast will harden and then the milk dries up and it relaxes again. This just never happened.
I went to my gynecologist who ordered a mamogram, ultrasound and biopsy immediately. In a matter of days, I was diagnosed with cancer, had a PET/CT scan and breast MRI, met surgeons, oncologists, had genetic testing, and more. I've never had so many doctor's appointments in my life.
Many of you know that my sister died of brain cancer in 2006. She lived 3 years with the disease. To say that my diagnosis was scary at first is an understatement. Knowing what she went through, what my family (especially my mother) went through, and fearing the worst was certainly consuming me. Now, only a week later, I have more clarity. Here's what I know and what I'm focusing on (and you should too):
1. I have the most common breast cancer there is.
2. My tumor is estrogen-receptor positive, meaning without estrogen it will likely not survive. So we will rid my body of that hormone.
3. My tumor is HER2+, meaning it is wildly aggressive. But this also means I can have targeted treatment and can go on a clinical trial involving hormone therapy at the same time I start chemo.
4. My tumor isn't fixed. It is entirely movable, which means when my surgeon removes it, she will GET THE WHOLE THING. Same goes for my lymph node.
5. I will eventually have new boobs. And new hair.
As you can imagine, all of this treatment and surgery is very costly. I met my deductible in the first three days of being diagnosed, and am working on the out-of-pocket maximum amount. I will reach that by the end of the year, and then after Jan 1, my insurance cycles through again. So I will have a new deductible to meet and new out-of-pocket cost to bear. I estimate that when all is said and done, I will owe upwards of $12,000.
I am not one to ask for money, or even ask for help for that matter. But I reach out to you in this time of great need to help me and my family recover--emotionally, physically and financially.
I am forever grateful for your genersity and the outpouring of love and support many of you have already extended.
Ultimately, I will see my children grow up (Dillon is 4, Emma and Ryley are 1), I will live to be an old lady with John by my side, and I will hold you all a bit closer than ever before. Most of all, I will kick this cancer's ass.
Thanks again for all of your support!
I am truly a different person a year later, inside and out. I have very short hair (but hair nonetheless!) and I'm trying to get used to the face I see in the mirror every day. I'm taking new headshots for the magazines this week, so the official unveiling of my new look will hit newsstands in January. Though I've been appearing in several short sewing videos here and there on our social channels, so technically I have "come out" to the world with my short hair already.
Aside from my hair being different, obviously I have no breasts. Right now I have expanders that have been blown up with saline over the course of 6 months to stretch my muscle and skin in order to accept the actual implants. The expanders are hard and don't move AT ALL. It's very difficult to sleep with these boulders attached to my chest. Every time I hug someone, it feels (to them) like hugging a rock wall...or as a friend put it "shot put balls." I cannot roll over in bed without uncomfortable pain. It has made sleeping through the night nearly impossible. But I know it's only temporary and I DON'T HAVE CANCER ANYMORE, so I can deal.
For now, I have ONE infusion of herceptin to go and that's taking place on Halloween. The herceptin has given me cardiomyopathy, so now I see a cardiologist and have my heart monitored every month (echocardiograms) with extensive blood work before and after each treatment. It's a bummer, but reversible once I'm done taking the drug. And, again, I DON'T HAVE CANCER ANYMORE, so I can deal.
After the last infusion, I'll have some follow-ups and then on to pre-op appointments for my exchange surgery, when the expanders come out and the implants go in. I cannot wait to have squishy "boobs" that move a bit more. I've been told I will be able to roll over without pain and sleep on whichever side I choose. Oh lordy, I cannot wait. This happens Dec 9, and then I'll be resting and recovering at home until the end of the year.
After this surgery, in 2017, I'll have one final outpatient procedure, some tattooing (you all can google this if you want all the deets), and then it's quarterly visits with my oncologist. And biannual visits with my surgical team. Currently I'm seeing at least one doctor every week or two and have been for a year, so this will feel like nothing! I'll also continue my Aromasin for at least 10 years (oral chemo combating the estrogen that's left in my body).
I cannot thank you all enough for your support and love through all of this. I'd like to call out a few friends by name, the ones who came and visited during treatments and surgery recovery. Jennifer Burgess, thank you for treating my kids like your own. Erica Morris and Katy Villari, my sisters from another mister. Barb LeMaster, Michelle Fitton and Kathy Child, the "aunties." Joyce Oster, one of my rocks. Lori Gelhaar, what a surprise! I don't remember all of our conversations, but I remember you being there. My kids remember you being there. My husband remembers you being there. My mom remembers you being there.
Thank you for being there. In person or virtually. It means the world.
I'll send along another update after my last surgery and then will close this page when we say goodbye and good riddance to 2016. Let's move on!
Oh, and go get a mammogram. Pretty please.
My oncologist said she never expected this result with my tumor size and staging. Only 20-30% of patients in my situation have a complete response. So this is wonderful news!
I'm recovering well and as expected. I have a couple more weeks until radiation begins, and then I'll have that every day for 6 weeks. And I still have infusions every three weeks (HER-2 targeting antibodies), so I can't have my port removed until November. I'll have my second surgery in September, which I'm told has a much easier recovery.
For now, I'm back at work and CANCER FREE. Plus, I have eyebrows! Still waiting on some more hair to grow on my head before I ditch the scarves and burn them. (Ok, I won't burn them...I'll pass them along to my fellow warriors!)
I still have a lot left to do before I can put this behind me, but the hardest parts are over. Phew.
I thank you all so much for your love and support!
Again, thank you all for your support and love!
You are amazing! What a year! I wish I was there to give you a HUGE hug even though it would be like hugging a rock wall. :) Tell everyone hi! Miss you all!
I think of you often Ellen and more than appreciate your surprise packages to me during YOUR ILLNESS. I could not be happier for your outcome and you'll always be the extra little daughter with Gina during those fun years you girls were together and brought your mom and me together. Keep posting if you can and I'm sure your positivity outlook helped more than you know. You deserve a wonderful 2017.
Sorry to hear this Ellen. I knew I hadn't saw you on TV, but didn't know what had happened. I enjoy your show so much and hopefully you will be back soon. Praying for you and your family.
I am so sorry to hear of this, Ellen. I miss u on TV. Please concentrate on getting healthy! We all love u! I am praying for your health and well being, and peace of mind for u and your led ones!
I shared your account on Pinterest. I hope it has helped. :) Glad you are doing well. Love watching your show.
I am just thrilled for you that you have finished the chemo. This is great news. Praying for your strength as you meet the remainder of your challenges. Love, Ron and Jane
Congratulations, Ellen!!!!! So glad you're through the chemo phase. Way to hang tough and keep your chin up through this crummy ordeal! Onward and upward!!!
Wonderful to see you at work and then to meet your mom and son the next day. Continued prayers for you.
Good cheer over the Christmas holidays. May your chemo not bother you as much! Hugs to your family during this time.
Christmas love and good cheer to you, Ellen and love to your family, as well.
Your positive outlook and strength is inspiring. My thoughts are with you and your family as you fight your way through this. Keep an eye out for an Amazon package this Friday. It should bring some cheer to your kiddos. Sending hugs and healing thoughts. xoxo
My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. I know you definitely will 'kick cancer's ass'. I absolutely love watching your show and look forward to you hopefully being back on it again, once you are past all this.
My heartfelt prayers to you and your family. We met at the American Sewing Expo several years ago. You will beat this !!!