Sunday, January 26, 2014

My Survivor Tattoo

A few weeks ago, I got my survivor tattoo!!

I'd been planning on it for awhile (since before I was done with treatment) and finally went to have it done.  Here's a picture (sorry, it's still healing so it's still a little scabby):

For those of you who aren't familiar, these are Beatles lyrics.  The song goes:

Life goes on...

I love this song and I thought the lyrics were appropriate and uplifting.  Purple is the "official" Hodgkin's Lymphoma color, so I added the purple ribbon.

The tattoo is on my right wrist and every time I see it, I feel strong and proud and I'm reminded that life does go on.  What do you think?!


3-month Follow Up With Oncologist

This past week I had my 3-month follow-up appointment with my regular oncologist.  Hard to believe it's been three months since my clean PET scan!

We discussed my mysterious itching, which has gotten much better.  Our conclusion is as expected: dry skin (exacerbated by chemo), combined with stress.  According to WebMD: "Stress causes a chemical response in your body that makes skin more sensitive and reactive. It can also make it harder for skin problems to heal."  I tend to internalize my stress (guilt, worry, etc.), so this is a very likely cause…  

Speaking of stress, it's causing a few sleepless nights as well.  It's getting better, but I'm giving melatonin supplements a shot.

I had blood work done before my appointment, and apparently my hemoglobin levels are still a little low from chemo.  Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that carry oxygen.  Although my levels are still a little low, they are higher than my last blood test (from October) and are barely below the "normal" range for a healthy person.  No cause for alarm and this shouldn't cause any symptoms.

The plan moving forward will be to have CAT scans done every 6 months for several years (likely 5 years).  We originally anticipated PET scans every 6 months, but my oncologist says recent studies actually show better results with CAT scans for monitoring purposes.  PET scans can show false-positives more often.  CAT scans won't be able to highlight cancer the way PET scans can, but it will show any unusual tumors.  CAT scans are much easier, shorter, and cheaper than PET scans, so I'm happy for this news!

The doc did a physical exam - which included feeling my lymph nodes throughout my body.  She felt no noticeable abnormalities.  So now I'll see her again on April 21 (the CAT scan and blood tests will be scheduled for the prior week).


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Melissa Beats Karl - Party Time!

I officially killed Karl (that's what I named my stupid cancer) at the end of November.  I spent the month of December recuperating from chemo and radiation, and by early January I was feeling much more like the person I was before stupid Karl decided to pick on me.

So last night we had a "Melissa is Cancer Free!" party to celebrate the end of my treatment and for killing Karl.  We had some snow come through the city, but luckily most people were still able to make it out and we had a great night!

I finally got the confidence to wear my wig, so I went from this:

To this:

Here are some pictures from the night (the quality isn't great on some of these - cell phone pics in a dark bar…):

Getting photo bombed

Bri, Sarah, me 

Some of my all-time favorite people:
Jenny, Bri, Sarah, me
Sarah and me 
Love these two Erins!
My husband likes to photo bomb
Erin, me, Alyssa 
Jama, Alyssa, Erin, me, Lindsey, Holly
Thanks again to all those who braved the snow and made it out to celebrate.  I have the best friends :)


Monday, January 13, 2014

How Much Does Cancer Cost?

Cancer is expensive.  As if I need another reason to hate it…   I'm about to share the cost of my Hodgkin's Lymphoma treatment with you.

Because mine was caught in Stage I, my treatment was minimal.  The time between when I discovered the tumor in my lymph node to the time I completed my final treatment was 6 months.  Many people go through much more treatment over a much longer period of time, so keep in mind the amount I'm about to share with you is on the extreme low end of cancer treatment cost.

Ok, so are you ready to hear how much my cancer treatment was?  As of 1/13/2014, the total cost of my treatment has been…. $153,000.

Now, let me clarify - $153,000 is the amount that has been charged to my insurance company.  Thankfully I have a good insurance plan, so my personal expense this year was somewhere around $4,000 (deductible, out of pocket expenses above deductible, prescriptions, and over the counter medications).

So, how does $153,000 break down?  I've been tracking all of my bills over the last 6 months, so I have that answer!  Here's the short(ish) answer:

It cost $26,300 to diagnose - including doctors visits, ultrasound, blood work, CT scan, needle biopsy, and excisional biopsy.

Once I was diagnosed, it was $33,300 to prepare me for my first chemo session - this included oncology appointments, port placement surgery, PET scan, heart and lung tests, and bone marrow biopsy.

Each chemo treatment was a little different in cost because the cost of each chemo drug is constantly changing.  On average, each chemo treatment was around $3,200 (the most expensive one was $3,600) totaling $13,000 for 4 chemo treatments.

If you recall, my white blood cells kept dropping, so I had to have several Neupogen shots at $430 a piece.  I still haven't seen the bill for the two Neupogen shots I had to get at the ER over one weekend…  But for the 8 shots I had at my oncologist's office, the total was $3,500 for Neupogen.

The total cost of radiation was $54,000!  This includes doctor visits, radiation planning (done by doctors before treatment), and 10 radiation treatments.

It was another $8,000 for my last PET scan to make sure I was cancer- free.  Then $11,000 to have my port removed.

Keep in mind I'll have four appointments with my oncologist (about $200 each) and two PET scans a year ($8,000-$10,000 each) for the next 5 years.  I'll list all costs below for those of you who want to know.  Some of these expenses may surprise you:

Initial Doctors Visit
Follow Up Doctors Visit
Blood Work - CBC
CT Scan

Needle Biopsy
Consultation with Surgeon
Excisional Biopsy
Consultation with Oncologist
Detailed Blood Work
Initial PET Scan
Lung Function Test
Heart Test

Port Placement Surgery
Bone Marrow Biopsy
Chemo #1

Blood Draw from Port
ER visit

Doctors Visit - Nurse Practitioner 
Blood Work  
Chemo #2

Neupogen shot
Neupogen shot
Blood Work  
Doctors Visit - NP
Blood Work  
Chemo #3

Neupogen shot
Neupogen shot
Neupogen shot
IV fluids

Neupogen shot
Neupogen shot
Blood Work  
Neupogen shot
Blood Work  
Chemo #4

Blood Work  
Doctors Visit - NP
GP doctors visit
PET scan

CT (w/ PET)
Doctors visit  
Blood Work  
Radiation Oncologist consult
Radiation Planning (Simulation)
Planning Appointment
Radiation Simulation
Treatment Plan & Scans


Radiation Treatment
Radiation Oncologist Physician Services
Port Removal Surgery
Follow Up with Radiation Doctor

Friday, January 10, 2014

Hair Update!

Lots of people have been asking about my hair, so I'll share a few pictures.  My hair is definitely growing back (finally!) and it does look better than my last update.  It's still a little thin, but I'm making progress!

Thankfully my hair grows pretty fast, so I'm hoping that within a couple more months I'll be able to go out without a hat!

Speaking of hats, I got a couple new ones for Christmas.  Here's one:

Ok, so onto the hair pictures…

Here's the view from the front and my goofy face:

I have these little baby-hairs sprouting from the front.  I tried to part my hair on the side to cover it up, but it just looks like a bad combover.    I'm hoping that once these are long enough to blend in with the rest of my hair, the front will look somewhat normal:

Here's a view from the side.  This side still looks really thin - no amount of styling makes this look better:

View from the top - still pretty thin:

I also have a Miley Cyrus thing going on on the sides - the hair's really short and I have these awkward sideburns:

I haven't used Toppik lately (Toppik is the product that's hair fibers I have to make my hair look thicker… I used it in this post).  I don't think it would do much good right now, but once these short little hairs get a little longer, I think it will help.  I'll keep you updated!


Monday, January 6, 2014

Radiation Oncology Follow-Up

It's been a few weeks since I've blogged - haven't had anything to share!

Last week I had a follow-up appointment with my radiation oncologist.  He just wanted to see me about a month after my last radiation treatment to make sure I was feeling ok.

I did get a little nauseous as I pulled into the parking lot of the Cancer Center.  After a month away from that place, being back just stirred up a lot of emotions.  I don't miss that place!

The appointment went really well - uneventful really.  I feel pretty good at this point; I don't notice being fatigued anymore (that lasted about 3 weeks after treatment, but each day seemed to be better until I was back to normal).  The doc did a physical exam, feeling the lymph nodes in my neck, armpits, and groin.  He said none of them felt enlarged or unusual and since I was feeling back to normal, there was no reason to see him again!

At this point, I'll see my regular oncologist every three months for a couple years and have scans every 6 months for 5 years.  Once I hit 5 years, I'll be considered CURED!  My next appointment is in a couple weeks (January 22) with my regular oncologist.  She'll do a physical exam as well and then I'll have my next scan in April.

Lots of people have been asking about how my hair's coming in, so I'll be posting some pictures very soon.

Many people have asked about the mystery itch, too.  Luckily, it's much better than before.  Our conclusion is that it was a combination of dry skin (exacerbated by the chemo) and stress (it's very common for people post-treatment to worry and stress about recurrence, I can attest to that).  I've been using a great moisturizer called Cetaphil which has helped.  I still take a prescription on occasion that helps with anxiety, relieves itching, and helps me sleep.  I don't take it too often (less than once a week), but it's helpful for when I need it.

2013 has been an interesting year - lots of great things happened: a trip to our favorite city (Key West), an amazing 8 day cruise to celebrate our second wedding anniversary, and kicking cancer's butt.  The year had its challenges as well as I went through months of testing followed by a cancer diagnosis and then treatment for Hodgkin's Lymphoma (not fun at all).  I leave 2013 behind feeling stronger than I knew I was and more loved than I realized.  I'm really looking forward to a year of good health and I'm hoping to have a great year professionally since I was sick and miserable (and limited to work) for about half the year last year.

Happy New Year everyone.  All the best, and more updates to come!