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April
24
2020

The Last Update

It feels appropriate that I am posting this on April 24th, exactly 1 year after I started this site...


The greatest news is, after a hard year, I am officially DONE! No more treatments or surgeries! There have been no more traces of the cancer found in my lymph nodes or breast tissue. At this moment, I am considered a cancer survivor! ❤️



Our family is doing really well. Jordan has been an amazing support during the last year and I truly don’t know what I would do without him. Ashe (Anastasia) has finally decide to sleep at night, which makes for happy parents.😀 Carpenter enjoys being outside (so thankful for the beautiful Virginia weather) and will turn 2 in just a few weeks! 




Bilateral Mastectomies ✔️

When we first created a plan with our oncologist a year ago, we had decided on doing a mastectomy to avoid having radiation, assuming that there was not evidence of spreading (or I would need radiation regardless).


The risk of recurrence is high for this type of cancer, but studies have shown that having mastectomies lowers the risk. Since I was going to have the surgery anyway to avoid radiation, I opted to do a bilateral mastectomies instead of just having one side done. 

It turns out there are many more choices to make after making the big decision to have mastectomies! After a lot of consulting with my breast specialist and plastic surgeon, we decided on a plan. I had skin and nipple sparing mastectomies with immediate reconstruction with implants.



This is a 3-step process involving 2 surgeries over the course of a month. I had my first surgery on March 10, where my breast specialist separated my skin from my breast tissue (to assure that my skin was still getting enough blood and did not die) and removed 4 lymph nodes on my left side to biopsy. The surgery was a little over an hour, and went smoothly!



I got the call later that week that my pathology was clear - no cancer present in my lymph nodes! If the cancer is going to spread, the most likely area it would appear first is in the lymph nodes. This was wonderful news!



The second surgery was on April 2nd. It was 335 minutes long 😯 The first 180 minutes was my breast specialist doing the mastectomies and the last 155 minutes was the plastic surgeon doing reconstruction. I was fortunate to be able to go straight to implants and skip expanders, which means I will not need any more surgeries (at least for a decade)!



I stayed overnight at the hospital after the second surgery, Unfortunately due to COVID-19, Jordan was unable to be at the hospital for any part of it. He wasn’t even allowed to get out of the car when he picked me up. It was very strange to be all alone in the hospital, but the doctors and nurses communicated well with Jordan the entire time. The nurse even called him straight away when I woke up from the surgery so I could talk to him, even though I barely remember any of that conversation!



Recovery has been pretty quick and is going smoothly. I am probably overdoing it a little bit but am trying my best to let myself heal completely before getting to our new normal.



There was no trace of cancer found. I spoke to my oncologist this past Tuesday who confirmed that we are done. No more treatments or surgeries. Follow up in 6 months.




Some Final Thoughts 


I really am humbled by the love and support we have received over the last year from family, friends, coworkers, and complete strangers. I know I would not have made it through this without the kindness and prayers from all of you ❤️ Thank you. I am thanking God on a daily basis for the amazing people he put in my life to help us and pray for us.



I also thank God for my amazing team of doctors - my primary care physician, my oncologist, my breast specialist/surgeon, my plastic surgeon, and every single nurse at the Bon Secours St. Francis cancer center. They have all been (quite literally) life saving through this whole ordeal. I know that God provided these doctors and nurses to be my miraculous healers on Earth.



I am considering this case closed 🥳 and won’t be posting again, but the site will stay up for a little while!

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January
12
2020

Anastasia is here!

Anastasia Hope was born on 1/9/2020 at 11:28am. She weighed 6lbs, 6oz and is 19.5” long. No complications for mom or baby! We got to come home today :)

All of us are doing wonderful! Carpenter came to meet his baby sister the day she was born, and knows that she’s a cute baby (he points to her when we ask where the cute baby is!). He’s not so sure about sharing mom yet, but so far there haven’t been too many bumps ❤️

While we were initially thinking we were going to be induced near the end of 2019, Anastasia and I were both doing so well that the doctors decided there was no longer a medical need to be induced early. The best thing for Anastasia was to hang out in there until closer to her due date (Jan 14th), which worked out very well and likely made for an easier and smoother delivery.

We are so excited and blessed to have her home with us. It has been a crazy year but this little bundle of joy has kept our faith and hope going strong!

December
13
2019

CHEMO IS DONE!

I did it! I rang the bell! I finished my last chemo treatment yesterday (Dec 11th) and we could not be more excited!! After 22 weeks, we are finally done! I feel like I have been holding my breath this entire time, and can finally breathe again.

I can't even express how grateful I am that Jordan was able to be by my side for every single treatment. He has been an amazing partner and I could not have gotten through any of this without his support ❤️

While chemo has been far from easy, I certainly feel blessed that my side effects have been minimal, and that I have had an incredible amount of support from family, friends, work, doctors, and nurses the entire time!

Do the doctors know if the chemo worked?
Unfortunately, no. Back at the beginning of all this, when we found out about Anastasia and that we would need to delay chemo during the first trimester, we chose to do a lumpectomy that removed all the cancer that we could see. This means there was nothing to really “monitor” during the treatments to see if it was effectively shrinking the cancer.

However, we will continue monitoring (via imaging) to assure that no more masses are forming. I will also have a few lymph nodes removed and tested for any cancer cells.

Is there more treatment?
No more "treatment"! I will have a bilateral (double) mastectomy sometime in early 2020. This is not technically considered treatment, though it does eliminate the need to have radiation! The mastectomies are considered precautionary and greatly reduce the risk of recurrence.

What about baby?
Anastasia Hope can make her appearance any day now! She's certainly in position and getting big! We have weekly monitoring (including ultrasounds and non-stress tests) and she is doing great in every way. We are working with the MFM specialist and OB to determine the best date for induction if she does not come on her own before the end of the year. We are SO very excited to meet her!

October
30
2019

Delays and Changes to Treatment Plan

So it has been 8 weeks since I finished with the AC treatments...I thought it was time for an update!

On Sept 11th, I started my first cycle of Carboplatin & Paclitaxel (aka Taxol) Chemo infusions. The plan was to do Carboplatin once every 3 weeks (Sept 11th, Oct 2nd, Oct 23rd, and Nov 13th), with Taxol every week from Sept 11th - Nov 27th.

Hemoglobin and Blood Count Struggles
After the first round of both these drugs, my white blood cell counts started decreasing, which is normal, but they decreased so much so that the next two weeks I was unable to do my regular Taxol treatments.

I had also been struggling with my hemoglobin levels since before the last round of AC. They were trending downward - a combination of being pregnant and the chemo drugs killing heathy blood cells. 

Hemoglobin is closely tied to iron intake, so we increased my iron intake with a supplement, which I was taking 3 times a day. My body still wasn’t back to healthy levels, so on top of the white blood cell count being too low to do Chemo, my hemoglobin had dropped below 8. A normal range of hemoglobin for a women is 11-16. 

My oncologist strongly recommended we do a blood transfusion to help the hemoglobin levels come back up a bit. It is standard practice in anemic pregnancies to do a blood transfusion when the hemoglobin drops below 8 and the benefits to me and baby much out weigh the risk. We went ahead with his suggestion and did a 1 pint blood transfusion (but no chemo) on Sept 18th.

The following week (Sept 25th) my white blood cell counts were the lowest they’ve been, so that was our second week of no chemo. I did receive more iron via IV that day to make sure my hemoglobin levels stayed up.

Oct 2nd, my levels were back to a range that was safe for chemo (though still not quite normal) and we resumed taxol! The plan is to add the two weeks I missed on to the end of treatment, so instead of my last treatment being Nov 27th, it will now be Dec 11th.

We have decided to drop Carboplatin from this treatment regiment. The Carboplatin is what caused the issue with my white blood cell count. As white blood cells are vital to the immune system for both myself and the baby, the benefit provided in receiving Carboplatin  is not worth the risk to me and the baby if I got sick or needed to deliver her early.

Baby Girl Update
I am now in my 3rd trimester! Despite the struggle with hemoglobin and weight gain, our baby girl is growing healthily! As of Oct 24th, she weighed 2lbs, 11oz and all her organs and vitals looked good. She’s in the 40th percentile of growth. This is such good news, and an amazing reminder of just what a mother’s body does for baby. 

I am currently seeing the OB every 2 weeks. Starting Nov 21st, I’ll be going in to the OB’s office for a weekly ultrasound and non-stress test, which allows us to monitor baby very closely and deliver on-demand if there is an issue. We are praying that baby stays on a healthy growth track and that she is able to be born naturally after 37 weeks!

PS. The technology that is available now is so incredible. Check out the attached picture - baby girl’s face resembles Carpenter’s as a newborn SO much!

August
29
2019

AC Chemo done and a baby surprise!

Chemo Update
Yesterday (Wednesday, August 28th) I had my final AC Chemo infusion! I am so happy to be done with the 4 rounds of AC.

These last 7 weeks have not been without a little bit of drama, including a broken port on my second infusion, which required a last-minute catheter procedure to actually receive the chemo infusion, and a last-minute replacement surgery. The first two rounds were not too bad in terms of side-effects, but the 3rd round hit me hard for about a week following the infusion. It was mostly a bone-aching exhaustion and it took a toll on me both mentally and physically, but now I know what to expect over the next few days after this last infusion. This weekend should be the absolute worst I feel throughout the rest of treatment.

On September 11th, I start 12 rounds of weekly taxol (paclitaxol) chemo infusions, with carboplatin chemo infusions every 3 weeks (4 rounds of carboplatin total). My oncologist told us that the Carbo/Taxol regiment will be less taxing on me than the AC treatments has been, which is very good news.

Baby Update
We have had 2 anatomy scans in the last month, and both show that baby is growing perfectly! We won't do another scan until the end of September unless there are any concerns that come up.

We did find out the sex, and we're having a baby GIRL!! No one is more surprised than I am, but we are all very excited!

July
18
2019

Baby Update & The First Round

So...this is a really long post, but I've put the highlights in bullets at the top for you quick-readers :)

  • Baby beardslee #2 is developing really well! He or she is about 3.5" in length and really looks like a baby (see pic attached)! We find out the sex (hopefully) at our next scan on August 7th.
  • Yesterday was my first day of chemo treatments. We are starting with the AC (Adriamycin & cyclophosphamide) chemo drugs, which are given in 4 rounds over 8 weeks.
  • I'm feeling ok right now - nothing worse than a light "hangover" feeling, which will get a little worse each day until about Sunday or Monday. After that, I will slowly start feeling normal again...until the next round! Then the cycle will begin again.


The Routine for AC Chemo Days
Overall, its a long day (mostly of waiting). Our first day was 9am - 2:15pm, and the rest should be similar, from what we've been told.

Labs: Our day starts early, arriving at the Cancer Center Infusion Unit before 9am. The very first thing to be done is accessing my port and drawing blood for labs, which takes the nurses less than 15 minutes. Our labs are sent for processing, and this can take anywhere up to 3 hours (it just depends on how busy they are that day). These labs are mainly for blood count and to assure that my heart is functioning as expected.

Oncologist: Once the blood is drawn, we head to the waiting room and wait to see the oncologist. This helps kills some time with the labs are being processed. When we meet with the oncologist, we chat about any concerns that we have or he has around health, treatment, or side effects. It's a quick meeting, but we could be waiting a while to see him (I think we waited an hour this first time).

Pre-meds: After we meet with the Oncologist, we head back to the infusion suite and wait for the labs to come back. If we're lucky (we were this first time), the labs came back before we were done with the oncologist. Once the labs are checked and all blood counts look good, orders are sent to the pharmacist, who prepares the pre-meds and chemo doses and has them delivered to the infusion center nurses. 

The pre-meds I had this time consisted of anti-nausea medicine, which lasts a couple of days, and a steroid. They are both given via the port line in a slow drip over about an hour of time.

Chemo drugs: The "A" part of AC was given first. This drug is also known as the "Red Devil" because it is a very deep red color and one of the side effects is turning any liquid that comes out of my body red - tears, sweat, etc. It is given over 10 minutes, with a nurse actively "pushing" it in via my port line. The port line is also hooked up to a saline drip at the same time. The nurse pushes a small amount into the line, then wait about 30-60 seconds for a saline drip to clear the line, and pushes a little bit more. 

The "C" drug is given last - much less intimidating than the red devil. It is a clear drug that slow drips via the port line for 30 minutes. 

Neulasta: Once the Chemo drugs are done, the nurses flush out the line and remove the line from my port. Then they attach a little box patch to my arm which is set to dispense a drug called Neulasta about 27 hours after it is attached (once it's done dispensing, I get to remove it). If I did not have this patch or it malfunctions, I would need to go back to the infusion center and get a shot of Neulasta instead. This saves us quite a bit of travel time.

Neulasta is a drug that helps stimulate white blood cell growth. I will definitely still be at much higher risk for getting sick than most people, but this does help the body fight infection better, and hopefully keep a relatively normal balance in my system.

The Side Effects (so far)
I did not feel much while receiving the drugs or even for a bit after. I was a little light headed and dizzy during the day, but nothing that was keeping me from getting around. I also sat most of the day in a chair or bed, which helped quite a bit.

Arriving home, I felt fatigued but wide awake at the same time. The nurses had prepped me to expect this. The drugs make me sleepy, but as part of a pre-med routine I receive a steroid, which messes with the body's ability to settle/sleep.

Today (the next day), I feel lightly hung-over. A light headache I can't get rid of and my appetite comes and goes, but completely manageable. From what I've been told and read by others who have had this same routine, the hangover feeling is normal and gets progressively worse over the next few days. I should feel the worst of it around Sunday or Monday and slowly start feeling normal again before I am ready for the next round.

I've also been told that the more treatments you go through, the worse you feel each time (like the lowest point feels even lower with each successive round), which does make sense to me considering the body is weakening a bit. 

The best things I can do for myself are: eat really healthy (keep that immune system up!), exercise if possible, stay hydrated, and keep being positive - so these are the things I'm focused on!!

June
5
2019

France, a Lumpectomy, and a Heartbeat!

First of all, we had an amazing time in France, and so grateful that we were still able to go and have that experience. I will post some pictures soon!

When we returned, we had an ultrasound to confirm how far along the baby is. We found out that we were 6 weeks at that point, which pushes my official due date to January 15th. Even with being so early, we were already able to listen to our little one's heartbeat!

I had a Lumpectomy done on May 28th. The surgeon and anesthesiologist did an amazing job handling my unique situation. Because there is a concern about being under anesthesia while in the first trimester, they really worked to keep me under the least amount of time possible.

The surgery itself was about 40 minutes, and I was awake very shortly after it was finished. Recovery from the surgery has been much easier than expected. The lump removed was about 3.5 cm big, and pathology tests confirmed (again) that it is indeed triple negative breast cancer, but is slightly more aggressive than we originally thought. However, the margins were clear around the lump - there is no noticeable cancer in the blood vessels around it - which is good news.

We had an ultrasound 2 days after the Lumpectomy and I am happy to say that our little one's heartbeat was very strong, and it looks like the surgery/anesthesia had no impact on the pregnancy!

We met with our Oncologist this morning to set our Chemo dates. My first official round will start on July 17th - the exact day I hit the second trimester. I will be updating the timeline post here with all of the dates I will be having Chemo treatments done.

Thank you again for all of your love and support!

May
10
2019

An Unplanned Blessing (& Changes for Treatment)

A Big Announcement

We recently found out a bit of information that changes our plan for treatment, and wanted to share with all of you, as it is such a beautiful blessing!

WE'RE HAVING A BABY! Carpenter is officially going to be a big brother!!

We cannot express enough how excited we are! God handed us this little reminder of joy at a time when we really needed it. Our new little one's official due date is January 8th, and so far things appear to be progressing well!

 

 

Changes for Treatment

 

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is still the best treatment option for this cancer and is safe to do during pregnancy during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. This means we will wait until I am 14 weeks along to start, so I will be starting Chemo July 10th, assuming everything with our pregnancy is progressing as normal. The chemo time frame and drugs will remain the same. I will still be doing 20 weeks of Chemo (16 total treatments) that will last from July 10th - November 20th.


Lumpectomy

Delaying Chemo that long is not without its risks though. The biggest risk is that of the cancer spreading. The recent MRI I had last week (before we found out about the baby!) showed that the cancer is contained to the left breast at the moment - at least, there are no other large enough clumps of the cells to see elsewhere - which is great news at it confirms that we are catching this at Stage 2!

Our Oncologist suggested that since we are delaying Chemo (and I can actually feel that the mass has grown since I've found it), one of our options is to get a Lumpectomy at the end of May or beginning of June. Our oncologist was very clear that there is no data out there that we could reasonably use to say that we are certainly decreasing the risk of spread. However, in cases where it’s not possible to start Chemo right away, the next best treatment step is to “definitively remove” what we can already see.


Knowing this, we have decided to go ahead with the Lumpectomy. The surgeon relayed to me that the surgery itself will be about 30 minutes, which means a small amount of time under anesthesia. It is also a lighter version of general anesthesia. Of course, the anesthesiologist will be aware of our situation and monitoring during the surgery as well!

 

Delivery

Because this is a High-Risk pregnancy, the delivery of this baby will be much different than with Carpenter. With Carpenter, I did an all-natural birth under the care of the Midwives at St. Francis Bon Secours hospital. While my cancer treatment is through the same hospital, my prenatal visits with a High-Risk OB will likely be at the sister campus of St. Mary's Bon Secours (still in Richmond). The delivery will be very controlled - likely induced at an exact time - because my immune system will be so low and the risk of infection for baby may be high. St. Mary's also has a better-equipped NICU in the event that anything should go wrong.


Double Mastectomy

We are still working with our oncologist and surgeon to understand the risks of doing a mastectomy before the baby is born versus waiting until after. The short of it is - it is much harder to do a mastectomy on a lactating woman and that may be a large factor in deciding whether we have the mastectomy before the baby arrives. We are still working with the doctors on this decision though, and have some time to figure it out. As we find out more we will post an update!

 

I know this is a long post - thanks for reading it through and thank you SO much for the prayers and support! We can use them doubly now!