1fav_M3_0009I don’t know what it feels like to have a child and not have the dark cloud of cancer hanging over my head. I was diagnosed with Stage 3C widespread gynecologic cancer when my daughter was just five days old. So, despite my best efforts to live each day in the moment, there’s almost always this niggling little voice in the back of my head reminding me, “you might not be here when that happens.”

I’ve tried to document things much more than I might have otherwise. That’s frankly one of the main reasons I did the CafeMom Studios documentary series, “It’s Cancer, Baby.” It’s also part of the reason I blog and write. I want my daughter to know me, even if I’m not around. And I don’t just want her to know about me. I want her to know about her as well, and how she was as a little girl. I love hearing my parents tell stories of how I was as a child. (Don’t we all?) So I decided to start writing periodic letters to my daughter at particular times in her life. Here’s the first one … Read More →

I recently found out that I have the BRCA1 genetic mutation. And even though I’ve recently gone through a hell of a year of intense treatment for widespread gynecologic cancer, I am now facing the fact that I am at very high risk for breast cancer. Like really high risk. I’m told that there is an 87 percent chance that I’ll contract breast cancer in my lifetime. And although at age 45, I’ve already lived through part of my lifetime risk, those odds are still uncomfortably high.

According to the National Cancer Institute, prophylactic mastectomy in high-risk women may reduce the risk of developing breast cancer by 90 percent. As I see it, I didn’t go through 3 surgeries, 24 rounds of aggressive chemotherapy, and a year of fighting my way back to health just to have another form of cancer come in the back door and take me out. Fuck that. This is why, when told that I could voluntarily remove my healthy breasts in order to save my life, I didn’t hesitate to say “I will.”

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1fav_M3_0020I recently made the decision to seek genetic counseling and testing to determine if, given my history of cancer, my daughter was also at risk for contracting the disease. Turns out, she very well may be. My first step in the genetic testing process was to see if I carried either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations. If I tested negative, I would then have the option to go deeper and do further testing. Given my known family history and all of the relevant factors, I knew I had a relatively low 7.5% chance of testing positive for one of the mutuations. So I was surprised this week to learn that I had indeed tested positive for a BRCA1 deleterious mutation. In other words, I have the cancer gene. Read More →

photo-2Can you imagine if you had never put anything unhealthy into your body? No fried foods, candy, caffeine, soft drinks, alcohol, drugs, red dye #40, processed foods, chemicals, hormones or any of that other known bad stuff? Not to mention if you had never intentionally baked your body in the sun, smoked cigarettes or placed yourself in a cloud of aerosol hair spray daily for years? If your body was as pure and toxin-free as it could be?

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IMG_0344Well, that certainly didn’t turn out the way I thought it would. Not at all.

I didn’t realize it until after the fact, but, like my husband, I had been telling myself a certain story about how all of this cancer business was going to go down. Because it wasn’t known whether the “questionable” spots on the CT scan were malignant or benign, I chose to assume they were benign. And because it wasn’t known whether more cancer existed inside me beyond the mass that was found on my fallopian tube, I chose to assume that none did. I also told myself that once the doc got inside and took a look around, she would realize that an IP port wasn’t necessary…that I likely wouldn’t need chemo to be hosed directly into my abdomen.

We had been telling ourselves these stories, my husband and I, unbeknownst to each other. And apparently our close friends and family had been telling themselves similar stories as well. This was certainly a living example of the phrase, “expectations are premeditated disappointments.” If we had kept our expectations in check, the outcome of the procedure would not have been nearly as jarring.

This wasn’t like me, this erring on the side of optimism. I’m the girl who, in the past, would wonder if her headache wasn’t a brain tumor, or who would speculate that the mystery ache or pain was cancer of the whatever. But, for some reason, with this cancer diagnosis, I was telling myself that surely it wasn’t as bad as all that…that surely this was a “mild” case of cancer that would be easily treated and stomped into submission. It was quite sobering to find out that I was wrong.

I feel sorry for my poor husband, as he ended up having to be the one to deliver the news to me. It seems that I was so out of it after surgery that I did not remember my oncologist or primary care physician repeatedly telling me the results of the surgery.  Apparently, I asked them several times what had been found, and they told me, but I was too drugged to process the information or retain it. When I was finally lucid enough to take in the information, Mark and I were alone in our room at the hospital and it was the middle of the night. I began peppering him with questions, which he patiently answered for what was actually the umpeenth time. My reaction this time, however, was different, because I was actually able to understand and absorb what I was being told, which was this:

The cancer had spread to other areas. The “questionable” spots were definitely cancer, and there were other cancerous areas too. There was a particularly large cancerous tumor on my omentum (area of the abdomen) that had not even shown up on my CT scan. It was not necessary to wait for the pathology reports….the cancer was visible to the naked eye, nothing questionable about it. Because of the nature of the spread, the cancer was graded as a Stage III-C, one step below a Stage IV. And there is no Stage V in cancer world. An inter-perineal port had been installed so that the chemo could be administered directly into my abdomen, as well as intravenously.

Fuck. This was the real deal.

The first day post-op was basically spent trying to get pain under control and get me physically comfortable, which we did. The incision wasn’t as bad as I had imagined, although it was still a bit gnarly to look down and see railroad tracks of surgical staples marching down my abdomen and around my belly button and beyond. Plus, that ominous port-thing at the top of my rib cage. Adjusting to these physical differences was the goal of Day One.

Getting up and down was a bitch. Still is, although I’m much better today. Today, Day Two, I woke up with a new attitude, determined to do whatever I could to heal as quickly as possible so that I could get on with the next phase of treatment. I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say that I successfully met all goals today. As I result, I’ve been cleared to go home in the morning. I think I even impressed my uber hardcore oncologist, whom I happened to pass as I was power walking through the halls on my floor. After seeing me in action, she had no choice but to give me the all clear for discharge. A small victory. Plus, we’ll get to be home in time for Christmas.

Physically, I’m ahead of the recovery game. Wrapping my head around the new information about my diagnosis is another issue. I’m doing much better today on that front as well, but it still seems quite surreal.

Right now, my primary goal is to heal as quickly as possible from the surgery so that I can start chemotherapy the second week of January. I’ll do six rounds of chemo, with the drugs being administered on the first, second and eighth days of each three week cycle. The chemo will be administered directly into my abdomen as well as intravenously…aggressive therapy for an aggressive cancer. At this point, I just want to do whatever it takes to ensure that the disease is eradicated altogether. So that’s what we’re going to do.

My perspective today is very different than it was 72 hours ago. And I’ve learned a valuable lesson about setting expectations. My goal today is to try to take this, all of this, a step at a time. Next steps…go home with my husband and baby; celebrate the holiday together with our families; then focus on getting as strong and healthy as possible before starting treatment. And continue to enjoy every minute of the process.

My doctor is encouraged by all of the motivators I have in my life, my husband and daughter being at the top of the list. And he’s right. I have so much to live for, so many reasons to get this behind me and get on with living. I have to admit it was a bit eerie this week to find us in the same configuration we had been just a few weeks ago…me in a hospital bed, Mark on an uncomfortable pull out chair/bed next to me and our little daughter in a hospital bassinet between us ….with the circumstances so incredibly different this go-round. But the point was, we were all still together.

threeAs one of my best friends reminded me today…three is a magic number for our family. So, Stage 3? We’ve got this.

Thanks to all of you for the support, prayers and positive energy. We have felt so surrounded by love and optimism. We know that we are not alone in this journey.

Love and gratitude,
The Montgomery Three