Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Becoming Boob-a-licious: A Year in Review

Exactly one year ago today my alarm clock went off in my apartment, I got ready, and headed to work.  It started just like any other day, until...

Well, to really tell the story we need to back up a couple of weeks to June 23, 2009.  Do any of you know the significance of that date?  It was epic... my 35th birthday.  How did I handle it?  I was freaking out!!!  No, really... I'm serious... I was FREAKING OUT!!!!  So, Mr. Wonderful has not showed up and I'm 35 and single... oh well.  I've never been anything but single, so I suppose I can manage.  While there was a small pity party I threw for myself, that wasn't the trigger for my tantrum. 

You see, it all goes back to nursing school.  I remember sitting in class and the Obstetrics professor repeatedly telling us about the increased risk of birth defects, Down's Syndrome, and infertility that warranted the label of "high risk pregnancy" to women of the advanced maternal age of... you guessed it... 35!  Those of you who know me well know that I LOVE working with kids and have always wanted to be a mom.  So, my nursing-trained brain could not let go of the mental image of my uterus being stamped with "Expires on June 23, 2009"!  That, my friends was the source of my potential break down.  I was, in fact, so concerned that I really might fall apart that I took an entire week of vacation time from my job in order to spare a display of weeping at the sight of small children in our waiting room at work.  I didn't actually go anywhere during that week off.  I just tried to relax, do some shopping, and take care of some things on my to do list like going to the dentist, the doctor, and getting a routine mammogram. 

When the day of my actual birthday came, my mom was in town for support (being the Superstar mom that she is) and we "celebrated" with a dinner at a Mexican restaurant with family and friends.  It was more of an "UnBirthday" party since I gave very strict instructions:  no cake, no singing, no cards, no presents, no balloons, and no mention of the word Birthday.  Now, I realize this might sound extreme, but it was for the protection of all of those involved... in my fragile state I didn't want an innocent attendee to hand me a singing card and subsequently watch me potentially spiral downward into the "ugly cry."  So, I protected all of us from the "my uterus is expiring today and I'm freaked out about it" melt down by setting rigid boundaries.  And we all survived the week of my birthday.

Then it was July 4th and life was back to "normal."  I celebrated the holiday with my best friend Alyson and her family.  We all watched the fireworks from the top level of a parking garage in The Woodlands.  I remember taking a couple of really cute pictures with her two girls Katie and Gracie... the photos were great to have because both girls were smiling and actually looking at the camera at the same time... that's quite an accomplishment with a then 3 and 4 year old.

So, after surviving a monumental birthday week, and after celebrating a national holiday... it was Monday July 6, 2009 and time to start another work week and get back into the swing of my routine.  And that brings us back to my apartment with the alarm clock, the typical morning routine, and the start of just another day at the office... until my lunch break. That's when I checked my phone for facebook updates and noticed I had a voicemail.  It was someone from TOPS Comprehensive Breast Center informing me that my mammogram results were abnormal and I needed to contact them immediately to schedule a second look.  I tried to think positive and be brave.  I called mom that night to tell her and we both held the opinion of "It will be fine... lots of women have to do a repeat mammogram, and it turns out to be nothing."  But it turns out it was the start of the biggest, scariest, most awe-inspiring year of my life.  Exactly a year ago today I drove to work with my original boobs still attached, and my thick, long blond (with the help of highlights) hair that was so hot and sweaty in the Houston humidity of summer.  I started the day oblivious to the storm of cancer that would enter my life and test the limits of my body, my strength, and my faith. 

The day after that voicemail came another mammogram and ultrasound... then a few days later multiple biopsies.  And on July 14, 2009 the phone call from the doctor that took me to my knees... my diagnosis.
And so the whirlwind began.  Multiple doctor's appointments followed in the next few days.  Then one week after my diagnosis was the break-in at my apartment (see the postings from 8/09 for more details), and my subsequent move into the home of my best friend Alyson Pope Miller.

Then July 23, 2009 exactly one month after my birthday, I found myself sitting in the office of a fertility specialist talking about freezing my eggs! Next came my bye-bye boobies surgery on August 17th.  I recovered for a few weeks, and we all prayed for my period.  That started the hormone injections in September, which was a wild ride... my estrogen level went from 35 to over 5,000 in less than 10 days!!!  Then on September 23, 2009 Dr. Timothy Hickman (the fertility specialist) retrieved and successfully froze 17 of my eggs which will forever be the young and healthy age of 35 even if I don't carry them until my 40's.  (FYI- chemo causes premature ovarian failure, aka "chemopause", or chemo-induced menopause.  I may never ovulate on my own again, but the doctor's can give me hormone injections one day that will prepare my uterus and allow me to carry a pregnancy using IVF with my thawed eggs.)

Next came October starting with Race for the Cure and a huge showing of support from my church Bible Study Class "Wellspring" complete with custom-made "Team Mer Mer" T-shirts.  My parents, my brother Nathan and his wife Kristen and their 2 kids Ellery and Price also participated.  Alyson was there with her 2 girls and a wagon they decorated in pink ribbon.  It was a great day and felt very symbolic of the love and support around me, and also of the long path ahead.     

A couple of days later my port was placed, and I started chemo October 8, 2009.  I had continued to work as much as possible unless I was at doctor's appointments or other treatment, with a 3 week break in August to recover from major surgery.  The original plan was to work on my "good days" and take off for the days I felt sick from chemo.  I managed to continue to function at the office through the first chemo cycle... then things changed.  It became clear that the toll from chemo was, at least temporarily too much for me, and I took a 7 week leave from work and then returned part-time in mid December.  My boss and co-workers were phenomenal in supporting me! I finished chemo on February 26, 2010 and a few weeks later started on Tamoxifen which is a pill I will take for 5 years to prevent a recurrence.  I slowly returned to work full time and started to build up my strength.

Reconstructive surgery followed on May 3rd... and let me just tell you silicone is an amazing invention.  For months I had carried the tissue expanders in my chest, which did their job of stretching my muscle and skin as expected... but those suckers were rock hard!  I'm not kidding... they did not move a millimeter... I'm almost convinced they could be used as self defense weapons.  I couldn't sleep on my stomach or side for months with those bricks.  Then after they were removed and the implants took their place I slept like a baby... and for 2 weeks post-op I couldn't get the word "boob-a-licious" out of my head.

The last couple of weeks have been a very reflective time for me.  A little over a week ago it was June 23rd again... I had so dreaded the big 35 and suddenly it was time to say goodbye to it.  This time all things Birthday were embraced: the balloons, a cake, candles, singing, cards, gifts, and most importantly friends and family to celebrate with me.  Then 2 days later on June 25th was another year anniversary... one year since my mammogram that set this journey in motion.  The timing fell so that this June 25th was my 3 month follow up with the Oncologist... the blood work results were good... my tumor markers are clear and I AM IN REMISSION!!!  Praise God for being my Healer.  After the appointment with the oncologist, this monumental week was marked by an amazing, joyful, miraculous gift that comes only from God who holds every desire of my heart.  Mom and I went to the home of Chris and Ivonne Pena and I held in my arms their precious twins who are the first babies in Texas history to be born from once frozen eggs.  (Ivonne was in the ABC news story with me.)  The twins are perfect with all of their fingers and toes... and they are warm and snuggly at room temperature now.  They are living proof of the promise that one day I will be a mom. 

People, I pray that the love and incredible grace of God is evident to you in what you just read!  Before the word cancer was even on the radar, I was heartbroken about turning 35 and fearful that my chance at mommy-hood was slipping away... and now through this amazing, and at times terrifying journey I am certain that I will be posting baby photos for you in the future.  I am also waiting with confident expectation for the day when I post the blog entry titled "Mr. Wonderful."  I don't know if I have already met him, but I know he exists... and that he will be an amazingly patient man who loves God and thinks I'm beautiful.  What an awesome day of celebration it will be when Mer Mer finally walks down that isle in a white dress... I expect you all to be there with tissues in hand for the tears of joy and ready to celebrate!


  1. Meredith, what a wonderful post!! I praise God with you for the wonderful things He has done and I look forward with anticipation to the future postings and those photos. What a wonderfully talented and beautiful young woman you are.
    Love you,

  2. I am so touched by you everytime I read your blog and how amazing our God is to have brought you through this year. You are truely an inspiration.
    Sherry Young

  3. What a blessed recounting of the last year. I didn't see the blog update until today. I'll share it with all those I have praying for you. Mr. Wonderful exists and will be worth the wait :-) Thanks for the heart warming :-)


  4. I am so behind on my blogging that I barely read this. It is such a blessing to finally read your story. I love you Mer, and I have no doubt whatsoever that you will be a Mom. Cant wait to see you again.