My Big THANK YOU!

It’s always important to acknowledge our accomplishments personally and professionally. Those moments help reduce the sting of disappointments, fears and challenges. Well, that’s how I look at it. I’m prone to depression and fight hard to find things to help fuel my passions.

When I look at this list below, I did more than I thought this year. All of it is volunteer. Yes, it takes various amounts of energy that I don’t necessarily have, but each one of these have brought purpose to my life.

My blog has been syndicated on Cancer Health Magazine’s website June 2019 – Present.

SHARE Cancer Support – Pleased as punch to have a piece published on this great breast and ovarian cancer website. https://www.sharecancersupport.org/2019/12/what-i-learned-about-breast-cancer-megan-claire-chase/

VoyageATL – It is my first non-cancer publication to publish my cancer story. http://voyageatl.com/interview/meet-megan-claire-chase-life-cancer-train-dunwoody/

You can also find it in the Inspiring Stories series at the top of the homepage as part of the Sandy Springs collection. http://voyageatl.com/interview/inspiration-from-sandy-springs/

WATC TV Channel 57 – interviewed for October 2019 breast cancer awareness segment for young adult cancer survivors.

Brain Cancer Diaries – interviewed for an episode during October 2019 for breast cancer awareness on YouTube.

IHadCancer.com – wrote various pieces throughout the year that were published on their site.

Presented with Francesca Music from Elon University our abstract titled, “You don’t really have a say in anything…like you don’t have any options”: AYA Cancer Survivors’ Perspectives on Fertility Preservation Conversations with Healthcare Providers at the 16th Annual American Psychosocial Oncology Society (APOS) in Atlanta, GA in February 2019.

Francesca and I were also accepted for a Poster Symposia II: Sexual and Reproductive Health oral presentation at the annual meeting of the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine in Washington, DC March 2019.

Our abstract is published in the medical journal Psycho-Oncology.  Here’s the citation:
Music, F., Chase, M. & Fair, C. (2019). “You don’t really have a say in anything….like you don’t have any options”: AYA perspectives on fertility
preservation conversations with healthcare providers. Psycho-Oncology, 28 S1, 17.  doi: 10.1002/pon.4986

Story Mistress for Paint Day and Speaker of Survivor Stories for Best Strokes: Hadassah Bares All for ART with Hadassah Greater Atlanta March 2019.

I also did a recap of my top five blog pieces that received the most views this year. It lets me know that many of you are still angry and still hurting.  I can see many of us desperately need a safe and supportive outlet to release the hurt and anger without judgement.

  1. Raging Against Myself
  2. So, hair me out…
  3. Hurting to Heal
  4. When Trust is Gone
  5. Palliative Care with a bottle of cannabis

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog posts. More importantly, thank you for reaching out either through my blog, DMs or on social media. Know you’re not alone. I thank all of you for not letting me feel alone either. I made it through another tough year because of your support and encouragement.

I hope 2020 will be a year full of healing, laughter, support, purpose and love for all of us.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

The Compassion of a Baby Spoon

Let me tell you what happened Friday. I was in such a good mood. I had taken a vacation day. I woke up with my pain level at an 8, which is tolerable. I took my time getting ready, and then put on my very favorite Christmas hat which makes me giggle. It’s my current profile pic on all my social media. ‘Ain’t it pretty? I was off to my doctor appointment, and then lunch with my mother.

I thought for sure my follow-up would last maybe 15 minutes. That’s what I was prepared for anyway. The original doctor who ordered the CT scan of my spine did not call to tell me I had spondylitis. Heck, I didn’t even see the actual report of the results. She just sent a message in the patient portal to come see her. Naturally, I flipped out, complained and got an appointment with a different doctor within that practice but different location. It’s slightly out of the way, but a nice drive when I don’t have anywhere else pressing to go.

I immediately liked this new doctor because she talked me like a colleague. So, when she pulled up the report and read it out loud, I was not prepared for what it said.

I have two small sclerotic lesions on my L3 and L4 lumbar vertebral body. The report says they’re likely benign but indeterminant at this point.

I have mild lumbar levoscoliosis which is a kind of scoliosis where my spine twists and curves toward the left side of my body in a C shape. 

Then it said I have mild to moderate lower lumbar spondylosis with facet hypertrophy in my L5 and lower spine. Spondylosis is typically a degenerative condition of the joints of the spine and is also known as spinal osteoarthritis. The discs, joints and ligaments of the spine are generally involved.

WTF?!?! Am I 43 or 543 years old?

So, instead of being at the appointment for 15 minutes and walking out with a treatment plan, I was there two hours and walked out absolutely freaked out! As soon as this new doctor read that report and my breast cancer history, she immediately called my oncologist in the room with me. Keep in mind, I had literally seen my oncologist on Thursday and had told him about this appointment. I liked how the new doctor asked my oncologist point blank what kind of tests he is going to order for me because it should come from him. I believe she is Ukrainian, and my oncologist is Russian. I had to listen intently because both accents are thick and fast.

Now I have an MRI with and without contrast scheduled on 12/26 and will get the results at my follow-up visit with my oncologist on 12/31. Once again a vacation day will be spent at a doctor’s office.

Those who think breast cancer is the “easy, free boob job type of cancer” need to be smacked. The complications and rapid aging it can cause the body leads to poor quality of life. I want so badly to apply for disability but know I cannot afford to live on pennies without insurance. Plus, I do love me some designer purses!

For those who missed my social media post about the on-call doctor who I called an asshole, you’re not missing much. I was super anxious and only have two emergency Ativan. I had called to see if I could get some Ativan or Xanax to tie me over either until Monday or thru the 26th. This so-called oncologist completely lacked compassion and empathy. He refused to help or even pull up my chart, which I asked him to do. He yelled at me for yelling at him and said, “I’m THE doctor. You can’t talk to me that way.” Um…no boyfriend, YOU can’t talk to ME that way. What an arrogant prick. After calling him an asshole and hanging up, the asshole proceeded to call back three times. I guess his fragile ego isn’t used to hearing the truth from a mere patient. I did not pick up. I already had my plan B waiting in the wings.

I learned a long time ago that I cannot trust the on-call doctors to actually listen or help, but at least it’s on record that I called asking for help. My friend Carla reminded me of my CBD:THC oil, so that was my plan B. It helped take the edge off so I could rest.

The responses of support and encouragement have been overwhelming and humbling by friends inside and outside the cancerland. Of course, you always have one or two cancer patients/survivors who have as much empathy and compassion as a baby spoon. My feathers get ruffled when other patients try to diagnose me. I know I’m not stage IV and pray I never will be, but when you start diagnosing me and telling me how you know everything because you are stage IV, that’s when I take issue. Fortunately, I’m not close to either one of those ladies who irked me yesterday on Facebook. I said what I needed to say and done with it. I just felt it was important to mention to not ever diminish someone else’s fear and anxiety without knowing their entire history or them personally.

After all, I’m only human with feelings.

This is not how I wanted to spend my last few weeks of 2019. Even if benign, the fear train is riding hard on the tracks because now I’ll have to be monitored in that area.  I was born with a benign tumor on my right leg as a baby. So, it’s not my first time getting tumors and thinking they’re benign. Then if it’s cancer, well…I can’t even fathom it. I’m mentally preparing myself for either outcome.

I will not allow this to my last post of 2019. I’ve had a lot of good and thrilling opportunities to combat the negativity and challenges experienced this year. So, expect that uplifting post this evening.

The Insanity of 2019

I can’t believe 2020 is around the corner. Just when I think a year can’t get any worse or filled with more challenges, I get a whole new slew of health issues. I’ve been reflecting a lot this week. I will make this a two-part series to discuss these challenges and the extraordiary opportunites of 2019.

I compiled a list of health issues that plagued me this year. Get comfy because the list is long!

February

Tried my 5th post breast cancer medication called Aromasin (Exestamine) to help prevent recurrence. Once again, my body is completely intolerant of it. It stressed my body out so badly within the first two weeks that I developed shingles on my left arm, hand and left side of my face.

For those who have never had the shingles, it’s essentially adult chickenpox. According to the handout my dermatologist at Preston Ridge Dermatology, PC gave me, here is the definition of shingles.

They are a painful skin rash that often blisters, caused by the zoster or chickenpox virus. Anyone who has had the chickenpox can get shingles. A weakened immune system seems to play a role in re-awakening this dormant virus, so people are more likely to get shingles after an illness, serious injury or stressful event. It usually occurs only on one side of the body.

Of course mine would be on the cancer side – the left. They are extremely painful and have to be treated within a certain timeframe for antibiotics to work properly.

My oncologist (my 4th one in three years due to previous one retiring) officially agreed there are no other options for the type of breast cancer I had and my pathology. It’s always tough hearing that. He said the only thing left to try is only available if I ever become metastatic. Lovely.

April

I landed in the ER due to severe dehydration and vertigo. I had been feeling odd for about two weeks. My head was pounding. I was quite dizzy and nauseous. I just pushing on and going to work every day.

I started feeling a tightness in my chest and pressure. I had never felt like that before and having difficulty breathing. I was initially going to call an ambulance but knew the cost would break me thanks to the high deductible of my health insurance. Since I only live two exits away from Northside Hospital, I elected to drive myself ever so slowly to the ER around 2am.  I didn’t call my mother or even tell anyone what was going on just yet.

My BP was 187/112 when I arrived to the ER. I didn’t even know blood pressure could get that high. I was scared to death. I realized it must be serious because three doctors came in after reading about my breast cancer history. I finally called my mother around 3am. She was not pleased that I drove myself and waited so late to call her. Once mother arrived, that’s when the doctors told us they feared I would have a stroke. I wasn’t released from the ER until almost 10am after hours of fluids and getting my blood pressure down to a below critical level.

May

Literally two weeks later, I had developed what I thought was the flu. My temp was 104.1. After three days in this misery and temp not going down, I went to my primary doctor’s office and saw the PA. I was tested for the flu but was negative. Again, I was having trouble breathing. When the PA listened to my breathing, she didn’t hear anything concerning. I asked for an x-ray and she agreed. I wanted to be sure.

It was pneumonia!!!!! I wish I had taken a picture of her face when she looked at the x-ray. She shook her head in disbelief and kept saying, “I couldn’t hear it, and would’ve missed it if you hadn’t insisted on an x-ray.”

By this point, I was so physically weak from pushing myself so hard for years on end, that my body officially shutdown. I called my supervisor and said I needed a two-month medical leave. She was so fantastic and immediately supported my decision. It was so sudden in the company’s eyes but a long-time coming in my eyes.

I was basically an empty gas tank.

June

I had my 8th breast cancer related surgery. It was initially revised secondary breast reconstruction due to the extensive fat necrosis that had built up in the exact area of my tumor. During the operation, they discovered not only the extensive fat necrosis but an “underlying association of a necrotic cystic cavity with an extensive capsule.” To break it down, it means I had a thick capsule around the fluid-filled sac, evidence of an old hemotoma and the extensive fat necrosis. Nothing is ever easy with me.

So the pain was much higher than I anticipated. It was the first time ever that I finished a complete bottle of pain medication.  

December

I received a new diagnosis last Thursday. I am very upset this doctor told me I have spondylitis in my spine through the patient portal. I was to call and set up an appointment for next steps. I’m furious she wouldn’t call to actually tell me what that means. So me being me, I have been researching and still have no idea exactly which type I have or anything. I went to a website called myspondylitisteam.com and found this information below.

Spondylitis is an autoimmune disease, meaning that pain and inflammation are a result of the body’s immune system attacking its own tissues. No one knows yet exactly what causes spondylitis to develop in some people, but it is now believed that genetics play a significant role.

More specific subtypes of spondylitis include ankylosing spondylitis, enteropathic arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, reactive arthritis, undifferentiated spondyloarthritis, juvenile spondyloarthritis, and peripheral spondyloarthritis.

I pitched a fit and will be seeing a different doctor at Northside but at a different location than that other doctor. It is unacceptable to give me news of a new diagnosis through the portal.

Needless to say, it’s been another exceptionally rough and painful year on many levels – physically, mentally, emotionally, professionally and financially. Even when I want to give up and just curl into a ball forever, I continue to get up each day and push forward.

I suppose that’s the meaning of resilience. Something deep within will not allow me to give up even when I’m aching to do so.

Burned Aging

I remember wanting to look older when I was in college. I used to volunteer as a reading tutor at a public elementary school my senior year. One time when I was at the school, a teacher told me to get to class. She saw me as 6th grader and not a 21-year-old senior in college. The fact I had my hair in pigtails probably didn’t help. I just recall being so upset that I was mistaken for someone so young. Now, I would give anything for that to happen again.

How come no one tells us how drastically cancer ages the body externally? Many of us internally feel older due to permanent side effects and other illnesses that were triggered by our cancer treatments and surgeries. I honestly never thought once about how much my face and neck would age.

Yes, I have always been on the vain side. Growing up in community theatre and ballet meant always looking in the mirror and looking the part. I always used to look years younger than my actual age, even in my early 30’s. This rapid aging is tough to accept because no amount of creams or concealer can fully cover it up.

I first noticed the aging of my neck. It used to be so smooth. Now it looks like lines of multilayered necklaces going down it. Quite shocking to see in the mirror. Why did I age in that area?

I honestly believe it has something to do with the radiation burns that went up the left side of my neck. I could see the beginning of lines then. I’ll never understand why I burned so terribly in so many areas (neck, back, under arm) aside from my left breast. Radiation was just as painful and horrific as chemo. This picture below still makes me cringe. By the end of my 33 treatments, the layered lines had formed completely across and down my neck. Instantly looking 20 years older in that area.

It has taken a full three years for the dark panda circles under my eyes to fade enough to where I no longer need to wear a pound of concealer to attempt covering them up. As you can see below in the pictures from three years ago, nothing could fully cover them up back then. Aside from looking fatigued, I looked…haunted.

It’s only recently that I no longer need a pound of makeup to cover the visibly aging skin. I just need half a pound instead! Seriously though, I continue to struggle with externally looking so different and just so much older. Then add medically induced menopause to the mix, and all hell has broken loose.

I don’t know my skin post-cancer. It’s dry and scaly in some areas now. The skin underneath my eyes has taken the biggest beating due to constant rubbing, new allergies to certain dye and contact dermatitis. I’m constantly trying different creams trying to find the right one to truly hydrate my skin.

Don’t even get me started on my lips! They used to be smooth too. Ever since the chemo days, I continually struggle with peeling and cracked skin on each corner of my mouth. Fortunately, my dermatologist gave me some cream that I use on my lips and under my eyes to help with the dryness. I never know what will cause another skin flareup.

It just boggles my mind that all this aging happened without zero warning. The physical changes are just so jarring. To everyone else, I look super healthy. I treat my face like a canvas. It is amazing what makeup and good lighting can do. I miss my thick eyebrows. It’s still strange to fill them in with a brow pencil. Now I’m a master at it.

Once the makeup comes off, I look a little gray, burned and forever fatigued. My face and neck are constant reminders of the trauma which is why I can’t ever NOT think about my cancer experience. It stares me in the face and plagues me daily.