All original content © Copyright Nicole Bills, 2011-2013

Still Trying (unsuccessfully)…

June 3rd, 2015 — 5:55pm

Well it’s been about three months since my last update and unfortunately the only news I really have to share is that we’re still trying to get pregnant. We’ve done two months of “ovulation stimulation” with the help of Letrozole. Both months were a big ole dud, and the second month didn’t even result in ovulation, let alone a pregnancy.

We’re now coming up on finishing our second month of “ovulation induction”…a more aggressive approach of making ovulation happen. This protocol includes the Letrozole pills, plus a week’s worth of Gonal F injections (a follicle stimulation hormone much stronger than the Letrozole), followed by a trigger shot of Ovidrel. The Ovidrel injection is what causes your ovaries to release the follicles it’s been working with the medication to produce.

We were optimistic for the first month of “ovulation induction”. My ultrasound before the Ovidrel shot showed 3 mature follicles…which meant that there were three chances for fertilization. Unfortunately all were unsuccessful. My ultrasound the for this cycle showed that there were two large follicles and two medium to large follicles that could potentially be released. We’re now in the period of waiting to see what happens…and whether or not my body will do what it needs to do to make a baby happen.

I want to be cautiously optimistic about this go around, but at this point, I assume the worst as each month passes. I’d like to say I’ve kept a good attitude about this whole process, but I am at the point where I am beyond frustrated. I’m moody as all hell and pretty sure I’ve put on about ten pounds thanks to the constant supply of hormones coursing through my body. I’m tired of having to stick myself with needles without seeing any sort of good coming out of it. And I’m exhausted of the constant stress of knowing that as each day passes, me and my remaining supply of eggs get older.

I ran into a co-worker a few months back and she said something that really threw me for a loop. She said that maybe all the troubles I’ve had at getting and staying pregnant was God’s way of telling me I wasn’t meant to be a mother. I’m not going to lie; at first I was offended, pissed off, angry, you name it at her for saying something so insensitive. Who is she to insinuate something like?! But as time continues to pass, I can’t help but have my thoughts wonder to if she’s right and maybe it’s not in the cards for me to be a mom.

I’m not ready to give up yet, but the month after month of heartache because of it not happening has definitely taken its toll. Here’s to praying for something positive in the weeks to come!

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4 Years of Remission

March 5th, 2015 — 6:38pm

My oh my how time has flown by the last couple of months. Another year cancer free is in the books. Last week marked 4 years of remission, and I couldn’t be any more thankful. The painful memories of my time as a cancer patient…sitting in the chemo chair, radiation sunburn, hair falling out, nails falling off, needles, needles, and more needles (in case you didn’t know, I HATE needles)…continue to diminish. They’ll never be gone from my mind entirely, but as the years go by, they’ve moved to a “hey remember that one time I was bald” type of thought from the overwhelming, self-pitying thoughts of “why me, my life sucks” that once monopolized my mind.

Because of all the reconstructive surgeries I’ve had over the last 2 years, I haven’t been able to have a mammogram or MRI in a really long time…much longer then I’d prefer to have gone without one. Fortunately, all the stars have finally aligned once again and I’ll be going in tomorrow morning for an MRI. It’s definitely weighed on my mind over the course of the last 2 ½ years that aside from check-ins with my oncologist and my own self-exams I haven’t’ had any sort of diagnostic testing done, so I’m looking forward to receiving a clean bill of health (fingers crossed!!) to hold me over for another year.

The road to baby continues to be a frustrating, up and down effort. I was officially cleared by my OB/GYN doctor the beginning of December to start trying to pregnant again. After talking through our options with the fertility doctor, Andrew and I decided to give the “au natural” approach another try for a few months. Probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to most people given the amount of money we just spent freezing embryos, but trust me, there was a whole lot of thought going into the decision…

With only 2 embryos frozen and knowing that in an ideal world we’d like to have more than one child, there’s pretty much no room left for error. Having had a miscarriage in December of ’13, then the triploid/molar pregnancy issues in March ’14, we were a little hesitant at jumping right to an embryo transfer not really knowing how my body would do or if I had any undiscovered issues could potentially result in miscarrying one of our healthy frozen embryos. By trying au natural again, we’d be preserving the two embryos we have right now, while we test to see what my body will do on its own…and maybe, god-willing, end up with a baby the normal way.

Surprisingly, I found out I was pregnant at the very end of last year. Unfortunately, I had another miscarriage a few weeks later. It’s encouraging that I was able to get pregnant again so easily, but SO frustrating to go through the excitement of thinking you’re going to have a baby, only for it not to work out AGAIN.

We spent some additional time with our fertility doctor talking about next steps knowing I’ve now had 3 unsuccessful pregnancies over the course of 12 months. He’s got me on a couple of different medicines now (Metformin and Letrozole) to hopefully increase our chances of a successful pregnancy as Andrew and I are still going to give it another month or two before we say screw it and move to embryo transfer.

Frustrating as ever! We’re trying to keep focusing on the positive…that I’m even able to get pregnant…and not stress out about the fact that we’re once again back at square one. Admittedly though, I’m not very good at that last part.

Hoping we have positive news to share in the months to come!! :)

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Test Results Are In…

November 25th, 2014 — 4:41am

It was a long week and a half, but Andrew and I finally heard back on the genetic test results of our embryos a few days ago. I’m so happy to share that out of the 3 embryos we sent off for testing, 2 came back as normal!!

The 2 normal embryos definitely exceeded my expectations going into the testing part of the process about 2 week ago. Ideally we would have had 5 or 6 to send off for testing…with the hopes of freezing 3 – 4 embryos, but I’ll take whatever we can get at this point.

The 1 abnormal embryo was missing chromosome 19…which after a quick Wikipedia search shows that it’s tied a whole slew of different diseases and ailments…one of which is breast cancer (which we all know I’ve had) and another is malignant hyperthermia (which Andrew has). I don’t think that it has anything to do with anything, I just thought it was interesting and coincidental.

Out of the 3 embryos we sent off, 2 were girls and 1 was a boy. I’m not going to share yet what the sex is of the 2 healthy embryos, because a little element of surprise will be nice if we’re lucky enough for the frozen embryos to result in normal, healthy pregnancies.

Now comes the hard part of waiting for the approval from my doctor to actually get pregnant again. I’ve slacked on my HCG blood tests the last two months because my travel schedule for work has made it tough and because one of the drugs I had to take during the IVF process was HCG…so it would have thrown a false positive on the test. I’ll get hopefully one of my last HCG tests next month…and ideally would be cleared in January to implant one of the frozen embryos.

So now we sit and continue to wait! Thank you for all of the positive thoughts and prayers over the last two weeks….I’m confident they helped with a much better than expected outcome!!

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The Highs and Lows of IVF

November 13th, 2014 — 5:11pm

It’s been a week since our egg retrieval and I finally feel pretty much back to normal. Gone is the crazy, hormone fueled, psychotic existence of my regular self….which I’m sure Andrew is quite happy about. It’s pretty amazing how much the daily hormone injections can affect your sanity. I liked to think going into all of this that I wouldn’t be affected by it, but I over-reacted to silly things and cried at the drop-of-a-hat like the best of them!

The doctor was able to retrieve 11 eggs during the procedure. Not as many as I was thinking they would get, but good for a woman of my age is what I’m being told. Apparently my left ovary was a dud through the whole process as all but one of the eggs came from my right ovary. Fortunately, all 11 eggs were mature and we found out on Friday morning, Day 1, that 9 of the 11 eggs were fertilized successfully…a number that we were very happy with!

The embryos were left alone for the next 48 hours to continue to mature and grow. On Sunday, Day 3, the embryologist called and let us know that 8 of the 9 embryos were still growing at the rate they should be. Still good numbers.

The embryos were left alone again for another 48 hours to continue to mature and grow. On Tuesday, Day 5, based on which stage of development the embryo was in, they would either decide to biopsy/freeze the embryo or let it grow another 24 hours. The embryologist let us know that we were down to 6 viable embryos at this point, and that they required another day of growth before he felt comfortable moving forward to the next steps.

At this point, we were still pretty encouraged about having 6 viable embryos. Despite needing an extra day, the embryologist said that it was completely normal and there was a wide range of variability in progression of embryos on days 5 and 6.

On Wednesday, Day 6, the embryologist called and let us know that unfortunately 3 of the 6 viable embryos from Day 5 were no longer viable, and that we now had 3 embryos we were working with. He let us know that the 3 embryos would be biopsied that day, the tissue from the biopsy would be sent to off for genetic testing, and the embryos would be put through the freezing process.

We were caught a little off guard with 50% of the embryos dying off from Day 5 to Day 6, and 3 embryos is obviously not the numbers we were hoping to go into genetic testing with, but we’re trying to remain thankful that we even have 1 embryo to send off. Based on my age, the average % of embryos that come back with genetic abnormalities is 45%….pretty daunting.

I originally thought we would know the results of genetic testing by the end of this week, but I misunderstood the doctor. The test results will take approximately 2 weeks to get back, so hopefully we will know before Thanksgiving. The waiting will honestly drive me crazy…thankfully I’ll be in India on a business trip the whole time and have some good distractions to keep my busy.

So now we wait. And try to keep a positive attitude that we’ll beat the 45% odds we’re working against. My expectations are pretty much at zero at this point. I know it’s a very real possibility that they call us and let us know that all 3 embryos are abnormal….and I don’t want to be caught off-guard and completely crushed if that’s the case.

Praying that the next two weeks fly by…and I have good news to share in my next update!!

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Tomorrow is Retrieval Day

November 5th, 2014 — 6:50pm

I found out yesterday that based on my latest blood work and ultrasound results, they’re bumping the date of our egg retrieval up from Friday to tomorrow!

The retrieval will be at 10:45am tomorrow. We’ll know before leaving the clinic how many viable eggs they retrieved. They’ll attempt to fertilize the eggs tomorrow afternoon, and let us know on Friday how many were fertilized successfully…aka how many embryos we have. The embryos will be left alone for 2 days to continue to develop. On day 3 (Sunday), REACH will update us on how many of the embryos continued to develop successfully and are still viable for freezing.

At this point, whatever viable embryos we have will be sent off for PGS (Pre-implantation Genetic Screening). This will take approximately 2-3 days and as soon as the genetic test results are available, they will call us and let us know the results….which should be by next Wednesday. Once we know what healthy, viable embryos we are left with, they will be frozen until we get clearance from my doctors to implant hopefully early next year.

I’m trying to go into tomorrow as cautiously optimistic as I can be. I know it’s a very real possibility that we could walk away from this whole process with zero frozen embryos, which would be devastating….but it’s also a possibility we could walk away from multiple frozen embryos. I don’t want to have a negative attitude about the process, but I also don’t want to be crushed if things don’t go as we’d like them to. Fortunately, we don’t have to wait too long to know what we’re “working with”.

It’s pretty crazy how quickly things happen…and how by this time next week, we should have some idea at the future of the family we’re so looking forward to have. My ultrasounds have shown pretty decent follicle production so far, so I’m really crossing my fingers for a successful retrieval tomorrow!! Thank you so much for all of prayers and positive thoughts that have been sent our way over the last few weeks….we truly appreciate it!

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IVF Week 1

October 31st, 2014 — 4:55pm

It’s been just over 3 weeks since my surgery and I’m feeling pretty good. I’ve been essentially pain free for 2 weeks now…and really the only time I feel any discomfort is if something or someone bumps into me.

Overall I think things went really well though. Dr. Harper took the expander out on my right side, replaced it with an implant, and reshaped my left side to match my new right side as best as possible. My right side looks so much better than I was thinking it would. Because the expander was so firm, the top of my boob always bulged at the top. Now that the implant is in there, it looks much more natural. I see Dr. Harper again in 2 months to see how things are settling and if I’m truly done with reconstructive surgeries!

There is a small possibility I may need one more surgery if I’m not completely happy with how my left and right sides match at the 3 month mark. As of right now, my left is a little smaller then my right, and doesn’t sit exactly the same at the left, so I’ll just have to see how much that bothers me over the next couple of months. And without an implant in my left side, I’m not sure that it’s even possible for them to ever look the same. If it keeps bothering me, then we’ll just go back in and throw a small implant in there… but we’ll see.

On to IVF….

We “officially” started our IVF cycle on Monday. I went in Monday morning for blood work and an ultrasound…and they called me Monday afternoon with the plan of action for this week. I have 6 different pills to take every day (1 antibiotic, 3 IVF pills, 1 pill to help control my ovaries due to the PCOS, and 1 low dose aspirin) and I have to give myself 1 shot a day….or Andrew gives me a shot every day.

Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get myself to push the needle into my stomach. I stood there for about 10 minutes trying the first time, and finally gave in and had Andrew do it. I just don’t see self-administration of syringes something that I’ll ever be able to do :(

I go back into REACH on Monday morning for another round of blood work and ultrasound…and they will once again call me later that day with the plan for the rest of the week. The original plan was for the egg retrieval to be next Friday the 7th, so hopefully my body cooperates and we stick to that schedule.

My ultrasound this past Monday showed that I have a lot of follicles forming in my ovaries…which is a good thing (and a benefit of having PCOS)…so please say a few prayers that those follicles turn into an over-abundance of healthy, viable eggs :)

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Still at 0…An Update on What’s New

October 7th, 2014 — 5:50pm

It’s been a while since I posted last…but I’m happy to report that my HCG levels still remain at 0. As of Monday, 2 of the 6 months that we’re “required” to wait until we can try again for a baby will have passed. I say “required” because my doctor has mentioned before that there may be some wiggle room he’d be willing to work with us on…and potentially give us the okay before that 6 months has passed.

While we’re still in this holding pattern, we’ve taken the opportunity to begin moving forward with the IVF process. Insurance is not budging on approving us for any sort of coverage at this point, so in an effort to freeze embryos as early as possible, we decided to move forward with paying out of pocket. I can say good-bye to that new car I’ve been wanting for the last 2 years now as IVF comes with a pretty hefty price tag!

I started my medications on October 1st to get the ball rolling. I have 3 weeks of daily birth control pills, baby aspirin, and a drug called Glumetza. Because I have PCOS, I’m at a higher risk of developing OHSS (Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome) throughout the IVF process. OHSS is when your ovaries become extremely swollen and painful potentially resulting in the need to go to the hospital to get fluid drained from your abdomen. The Glumetza will help to stabilize my ovaries and hopefully prevent that from happening.

On October 27th, I’ll start with the twice daily shots that yes, I have to administer myself. I’m not too crazy about that part due to my affliction with needles…but hopefully it won’t be too bad. I’ll have 10 days worth of shots, then the actual retrieval should take place on November 7th. That whole 2 weeks during the injections I’ll have to go in every other day for ultrasounds and blood work to monitor how my ovaries are reacting to the medications….so the days/dates could potentially shift slightly, and the egg retrieval could happen + or – a day or two from the 7th.

The timeline for what happens after the egg retrieval is a little hazy in my mind still, but essentially they’ll fertilize my eggs, let them mature for a few days, and then send off whichever embryos survived up to that point and are viable for genetic testing. We should know very soon after that how many healthy, good embryos we’re left with to put on ice and hopefully use soon after the beginning of the year. I’ll definitely keep you guys updated on how successful things are for us.

And in pretty exciting news….with this downtime in not being pregnant, I’ve been able to keep working with my plastic surgeon, Dr. Harper. He’s really happy with the progress the expander has been making and is finally ready to take it out!! I go in early tomorrow morning for hopefully my 6th and final surgery! He’ll be taking out my expander, replacing it with an implant, and making whatever modifications are necessary to my left side in order to match my new right boob. Exciting stuff!! I’m really hoping this surgery is able to get things to a point that I’m happy with…because if it doesn’t, I’m seriously going to get rid of them altogether!!

So that’s that…here’s to a successful surgery in the morning!!

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Finally on the Clock!

August 28th, 2014 — 12:28am

Life has been crazy lately traveling all over the country and world for work, so it’s been a while since I posted. But I finally have a little bit of good news to share so I wanted to get a super quick update out.

As of Wednesday 8/13, my HCG blood level finally hit zero! I’m officially on the clock towards counting down to the time to when we can try to get pregnant again. Much like the doctor initially told us, it took upwards of 6 months to get here….5 months and 2 ½ weeks to be exact.

We’re still working through some things with my insurance company and trying to keep a positive attitude that maybe someday in the near future I’ll qualify for IVF coverage….but definitely not holding out breath waiting for it to happen. Meanwhile, we’re looking into what our other options are outside of insurance coverage. It’s still too early in the research process to share anything…we’re really just gathering data to see what our options are.

I wish I could say that time is going by quickly, but unfortunately it still feels like we’re stuck in slow motion. Some days are better than others, but there’s still not a day that goes by that I’m not sad, bitter, and a little pissed off about what happened. From the very beginning, people tried to comfort me by saying that 6 months to a year’s time will fly by. But guess what, time doesn’t fly by. Every day drags on slower than the last and the only thing that is flying by are my viable months/years of fertility :(

While I should be happy and celebrating this small milestone, I can’t help but be a negative nancy about the whole situation still. I’m stuck in a rut of self-pity and anger…and will admit that I’m probably not a very fun person to be around some days.

I’m supposed to wait 6 full months of my HCG level being at zero before getting pregnant again, but I’m not sure I can wait that long. I’ve talked to my doctor about not waiting at all, or waiting a shorter time period…like 1 to 3 months…but we’re still deciding what’s the timeframe that we’re most comfortable with.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to research our options for the next “go around”….and hopefully I’ll be having my final reconstruction surgery in the next few weeks. I’ve had my expander in for over a year now…I think it’s definitely time to take that sucker out!!

Thanks for putting up with my negative commentary this time around :)

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Sloooooooowly going down…

July 18th, 2014 — 4:29pm

It’s been about 6 weeks since my last update and the only reason for that really is that I am SO OVER the whole weekly blood testing thing. I’ve got good, not as good, and bad news to share on how things are progressing.

In good news…..the last time I posted by HCG blood levels had risen about 3 points (???…I’m not really sure what interval HCG level is measured in so I’ll just go with points) from 41 to 44. I was hoping it was just a “fluke”…and turns out it was!! The next test showed by results had dropped to 34 points thank goodness. I feel like I had been prepping myself for the worst case scenario that whole week waiting on my next test…but fortunately I was just stressing myself out over nothing.

In not so good news… levels continue to go down, but at a snail’s pace. My current HCG level is 13…one a 1 point reduction from the week before. I’ve officially hit the point in this process where I feel like I’m nickel-and-diming my way through the next weeks / months. At the rate I’m going, I could be looking at another 2 months before I actually hit zero…which will be almost 6 months from the time this whole debacle started.

HCG Levels:
pre 3/26 – 200,000+ (exact # not known)
3/28 – 115,291
4/11 – 1351
4/17 – 542
5/2 – 128
5/9 – 92
5/16 – 71
5/30 – 41
6/6 – 44
6/11 – 34
6/19 – 23
6/27 – 19
7/11 – 14
7/17 – 13

I was told upfront it would take about 4-6 months from my levels to return to 0, so I shouldn’t be surprised that I’ll be upwards of 6 months by the end of everything. But I guess in my head I was thinking that I’d beat the odds. Turns out I won’t…unless a miracle happens between now and my next test on Thursday. I’m not sure who’s more frustrated with the whole situation…me or the one vein they draw blood from every single week.

One of the downsides of having lymph nodes removed from my right arm during my lumpectomy is that I can’t ever have blood pressure taken, blood drawn, shots given, etc in my right arm. So everything single week the nurse takes blood from the exact same vein. And that vein has just about had it. It’s been used and abused and is ready for a break!!

Moving on to the bad news….in not so shocking news, my insurance company once again denied me for IVF coverage. Andrew and I were hoping to qualify for our IVF benefits to kick in because of the whole molar pregnancy situation allowing us to do genetic testing on an embryo before it’s ever implanted, but after a few months of back and forth, hours spent on the phone, they said no. Because I was able to get pregnant in the first place, that automatically rules me out for coverage. I have to have 6 months of documented failed attempts at getting pregnant before they will consider me for coverage :(

So we continue to remain in this holding pattern. If feels like our life is literally stuck at a moment in time (a shitty one at that), while everyone’s around us moves forward. I’m praying that my levels will hit zero before what my due date was supposed to be (October 9th)…but knowing how things have gone the last 4 months, I’m fully anticipating having a weekly blood test on the day I should have been having a baby. Boo!

Thanks for all of the positive thoughts and words of encouragement since my last post…it truly means more then you’ll ever know!!

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A Frustrating Update

June 9th, 2014 — 6:36pm

It’s been about 6 weeks since my last update and despite wishing I had something positive to talk about all I have is frustrating news to share. My HCG levels had been dropping pretty consistently since my last post and I was starting to get optimistic that they’d be down to zero very soon…and then today happened.

The doctor’s office called me this afternoon to let me know my results from last Friday. A week ago my HCG level came back at 41. My results from Friday came back at 44. Clearly not a huge increase, but unfortunately regardless of the size of the increase, it’s still not good.

I have to go back earlier than planned this week to see what my levels have done since Friday. My appointment is set for Wednesday, so I should know by around Thursday at lunch what’s going on.

Optimistically (hopefully not naively) I’m hoping that there was just a fluke in my test results last week and my numbers will drop again and this was all just a big to-do about nothing. If that’s not the case and my HCG level has remained at 44, or worse continued to rise, I’ll be referred to a gynecological oncologist to determine next steps in treatment of this pain in my ass thing that apparently won’t leave my body.

HCG Levels:
3/28 – 115,291
4/11 – 1351
4/17 – 542
5/2 – 128
5/9 – 92
5/16 – 71
5/30 – 41
6/6 – 44

As we’re waiting for the end of our pregnancy hiatus, we’ve proactively been working with a fertility clinic in Charlotte to potentially go down the route of freezing embryos. Freezing embryos would get us two things…

First, it would buy us a little more time to be able to have a baby. I turned 36 last month, so I’m definitely inching closer and closer to the point where I may not be able to have my own biological baby anymore. Freezing embryos would extend that window of opportunity for us as despite my age at getting pregnant, the egg would remain the age at which it was when it was extracted from my ovary.

And second, it would allow us to do genetic testing long before the 11 week testing I had with this last pregnancy. They can do something called pre-implantation diagnostic testing on an embryo that’s 3 days old. This testing would identify all of the same issues as the CVS test I had at 11 weeks. Being able to test the embryos prior to freezing and implantation would ensure that any embryo we’d use in the future would at least be chromosomally accurate…unlike the last baby. This doesn’t guarantee us a healthy pregnancy or baby, but at least makes the chances of it happening much higher.

Now if only I could get my insurance to cooperate and allow me to use my IVF coverage to freeze the eggs. Because I don’t have a documented history of being unsuccessful in getting pregnant….quite the opposite actually since I’ve gotten pregnant twice since the wedding without any issues…they’re saying I don’t qualify for IVF. Where my issues lie are in staying pregnant and in getting pregnant with a healthy baby…not something currently covered by insurance. The doctor I’m seeing at the fertility clinic is trying to put together a case that would help get me qualified, primarily due to my age and the fact that I have to wait a period of time now to get pregnant again, but he’s not having any luck at this point. We shall see.

So unfortunately nothing too exciting to share at this point. Hopefully things will turn around here in the near future. Fingers crossed for an unexpected, good outcome from my blood test on Wednesday!!

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What Is A Molar Pregnancy & How Does It Change Our Plans?

April 27th, 2014 — 12:33pm

I can’t say thank you enough for all of the love and support you’ve shown Andrew and I over the last couple of weeks. I’ve read and sincerely appreciate every email, phone call, text message, facebook / blog comment, etc more than you know. And despite not having responded to all of them yet (which I’m very sorry about!), it means the world to me have such a great support system to not only celebrate the good times with, but to also help keep me going during the not so good times like right now.

I’ve had a couple of doctor appointments since my last post and have learned more about what exactly a molar pregnancy is, and what it means for the next 6 months to a year timeframe.

So what exactly is a molar pregnancy? A molar pregnancy is the result of a genetic error that occurs during the fertilization process that leads to the growth of abnormal placental tissue within the uterus. It’s caused by an error at the time that the egg and sperm join together at fertilization, often times 2 sperm will fertilize one egg. Molar pregnancies are rare, occurring in about 1% of all pregnancies. When I asked my OBGYN about his last molar pregnancy patient, he said it’s been at least 20 years. Pretty crazy right?!

There are two types of molar pregnancies, “complete” and “partial”. A complete molar pregnancy will only have placental parts (there is no baby), and forms when the sperm fertilizes an empty egg. Because the egg is empty, no baby is formed. The placenta grows and produces the pregnancy hormone, HCG, but an ultrasound will show that there is no fetus, only a placenta.

A partial molar pregnancy occurs when the mass contains both the abnormal cells and an embryo that has severe defects. In this case, the fetus will be overcome by the growing abnormal mass (called a “mole”) rather quickly.

Because we saw our baby on ultrasound and heard the heartbeat on multiple occasions, I fall into the category of a partial molar pregnancy. If you’re wondering how the partial molar pregnancy ties into the triploid syndrome I wrote about in my last blog, the two are often connected. All partial molar pregnancies are also triploid babies, but not all triploid babies are partial molar pregnancies. I just so happened to have the bad luck of falling into the category of having both.

Having a partial molar pregnancy unfortunately throws a pretty big wrench into our plans of trying to have another baby asap. When we were originally thinking I just had a triploid baby, my OBGYN advised us to wait about 3 months before trying to get pregnant again. With the partial molar pregnancy, the wait time will be upwards of a year plus timeframe…which means I’ll be another year older :(

One of the primary symptoms of a molar pregnancy is extremely elevated HCG levels (also the reason for my extreme nausea and vomiting the last 3 months). HCG is produced by the placenta during pregnancy. Because the placenta grows abnormally and is larger than it should be during a molar pregnancy, there’s the possibility that when the pregnancy ends (either by miscarriage or D & C) there could be traces of the placenta (aka “mole”) that remain behind.

I have to get my HCG levels tested every week to 2 weeks to ensure that my levels are continuously declining until they hit zero. If at any time before zero my HCG levels plateau or start increasing again, that means that there are still remnants of the placenta or mole in my body. And the only way to treat that is with a low dose chemotheraphy called Methotrexate.

That may sound extreme, but if left untreated, a mole can continue to grow and spread outside of the uterus into a very aggressive cancer called Choriocarcinoma. If you’re a fan of reality TV like me and are familiar with “The Little Couple” on TLC, choriocarcinoma is the cancer that Jen Arnold was diagnosed with the end of last year. If I’m remembering what my doctor told me correctly, about 10% of molar pregnancies go on to require treatment with Methotrexate to achieve a zero HCG level, and about 25% of that 10% turns into choriocarcinoma requiring a much more aggressive treatment plan.

My OBGYN told me that HCG levels tend to fall rapidly at first and then painfully slow on the last 100. He level set that on average, the timeframe to hit zero is upwards of 6 months. I’ve had my HCG level tested 3 times so far, and thankfully it’s declining rapidly just like he said it would. My first test was 2 days after my first D & C, so I’m not exactly sure what my levels were while I was still pregnant.

• 3/28 – 115,291
• 4/11 – 1351
• 4/17 – 542
• Next test on 5/2

Once my levels hit zero, I need to have an additional 6 consecutive months of test results with zero HCG levels before I’m officially cleared of this whole partial molar pregnancy fiasco. This is why I said earlier it would be upwards of a year before we can think about getting pregnant again (6 months to zero + 6 months at zero = 12 months of no baby). If I were to ignore all advice and get pregnant again in the next couple of months, the doctors wouldn’t be able to differentiate if my HCG levels were rising because of the pregnancy or because of the mole regenerating.

As much as I would love to just roll the dice and ignore the prescribed course of treatment for a molar pregnancy, I just don’t think that’s a very wise decision. I’ve been really good at beating bad odds the last couple of years. If The Hunger Games were a real life event, I’d be Katniss Everdeen. As devastating as it is to realize it will more than likely be this time next year before we’re cleared to get pregnant again, I just can’t imagine facing chemotherapy again so soon.

I think the part of this whole situation that’s been the most crushing is to get so close to having something you want so badly only to have it taken away in a blink of an eye. To go from planning on having a new born baby as part of the family for the holidays this year, to realizing it’s still going to be just the two of us….and not that just the two of us is such a bad thing, it’s just not as good of a thing as it would have been to have a baby added to the mix. And to feel like everyone around you is pregnant and having babies, knowing that you can’t join in with them for what seems like a lifetime. It’s been a struggle not to be jealous (maybe envious is a better word) of everyone that is already pregnant or will be getting pregnant in the next few months (because I swear not a day goes by on facebook where someone announces their pregnancy). Please don’t misinterpret, I am so incredibly happy for everyone I know that’s having babies, I’m just equally as sad for us.

So now we wait…and we pray…for both my HCG levels to get down to zero at warp speed and my biological clock to keep on ticking.

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Another One of Life’s Curveballs…RIP Baby Golomb

March 23rd, 2014 — 4:15pm

Where to even begin with this post? Since I shared mine and Andrew’s good news about the pregnancy two and a half weeks ago, life has been in a bit of a downward spiral. We’re very sad to share that on Wednesday, March 26th, we lost our baby….a little girl.

So much has happened since my last post, so it’s probably easiest to just write things in the order they occurred….

Sunday, March 16th I woke up around 4:30am because something didn’t feel right. I went to the bathroom and immediately noticed that I had started bleeding. Not a little spotting when you wipe type of bleeding, but sit on the toilet and the blood falls out of you type of bleeding. The kind that you definitely don’t want to see when you’re pregnant.

I assumed I was starting to have a miscarriage. Knowing there really wasn’t anything I could do to stop it, I cleaned myself up and went back to bed. I woke up a few hours later to much of the same situation. Lots of blood when I went to the bathroom, but no miscarriage yet. Not really knowing what to do, I called the emergency line at my OBGYN’s office. They told me that it was probably a good idea to head into the ER and get checked out by a doctor.

After multiple tests and a long day in the ER of waiting around for test results, we were finally told that the baby was fine. I had a subchorionic hematoma that had formed in my uterus and had ruptured on Sunday morning….causing all the bleeding that I was experiencing. Nothing to worry about moving forward, but pretty scary none-the-less.

I took it easy for the next couple of days. Went back into my OBGYN so he could check me over himself and was given the clearance that everything looked good.

Friday morning, March 21st. I had an early morning appointment to do my first trimester screening and genetic testing. My expectations of the appointment were to have an ultrasound checking on how the baby was developing, and then have blood drawn to look at the genetic make-up of the baby.

The first part of the ultrasound was the Nuchal Translucency scan. Nuchal translucency is a collection of fluid under the skin at the back of the baby’s neck and can be measured during an ultrasound. The technician began taking her measurements and immediately tells me that she needs to go get the doctor.

The doctor comes in and takes his own measurements. He proceeds to tell me that the fluid pocket is measuring much thicker on my baby then it should be. Ideally, it would measure below 2.5mm. Anything above 3mm causes concern for the doctors. Our baby measured 4.5mm…not very good.

He goes on to tell me that because the fluid pocket measured so thick, our baby has a very high chance (upwards of 50%) of having some sort of serious chromosomal abnormality or heart / birth defect. Because the ultrasound is only a screening test assessing whether or not you are at risk to have an issue, he recommended that I move forward with a diagnostic test to tell us for sure. Being that I was still only 11 1/2 weeks along in my pregnancy, CVS would be the diagnostic test available to me, not amniocentesis.

I was fortunate to be able to get in immediately for the test. The CVS is similar to a pap smear, just longer. Once the speculum is inserted, the doctor uses ultrasound to guide a catheter through the cervix into the placenta of the baby. He then uses a suction device of sorts to collect a tissue sample from the placenta….enabling them to determine the exact genetic make-up of the baby.

They told me they’d call me with initial test results at some point on Monday. The initial results will tell us whether or not the baby has one of the more common chromosomal defects….trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome), trisomy 13 (Patau Syndrome), trisomy 18 (Edwards Syndrome), or a sex chromosome abnormality. More detailed results would be shared with us 2 weeks later.

Monday morning, March 24th. The genetic counselor called and gave us the devastating news. Our baby tested positive for an extra chromosome in all 4 categories that the initial test results reported on….a very rare condition called Triploid Syndrome. With Triploid, the baby has a full extra set of chromosomes. A normal baby has 46, our baby has 69 chromosomes. Triploid Syndrome unfortunately is not compatible with life. Most Triploid babies miscarry early on in the first trimester of pregnancy. A small percentage survive into the second trimester. And very few make it to the third trimester resulting in either a stillbirth, or a baby that survives between a few hours to a few days.

Wednesday, March 26th, we officially lost our baby. Because I was 12 weeks along at this point, I had to go in and have a D&C to ensure that all the contents of my uterus were fully removed. I was put to sleep for the procedure, I think more so because who would want to be awake and aware while that is happening. I spent a few hours in recovery and we were sent home later that afternoon.

Friday, March 28th. I took it pretty easy Wednesday night and Thursday, but unfortunately by Thursday night, I could tell something was feeling off. My abdomen was cramping, my body started aching, and I had chills I couldn’t shake. I went to bed hoping I would sleep it off. I was up most of the night with continued body pain and fever that spiked at 101.7. By Friday morning, I couldn’t stand up without feeling like I was going to pass out and like every bone in my body would break.

We called my OBGYN and he was able to squeeze us in for an emergency appointment later that morning. At the appointment, we learned that not only was my pregnancy a Triploid baby, but I also had something equally as rare called a Partial Molar Pregnancy. In some Partial Molar Pregnancies, a fetus never even develops….instead, an oversized placenta with grape-like growths develops in its place. In situations like mine, a fetus does develop as does the oversized placenta. A molar pregnancy always results in miscarriage as the placenta eventually takes over the baby (if a fetus existed to begin with). So unfortunately our baby didn’t really stand a chance from the very beginning.

Because we didn’t know about the molar pregnancy going into my procedure on Wednesday, my doctor didn’t really know to look for / expect extra tissue in my uterus. As a result, we also learned at my doctor’s appoint on Friday that I still had some remaining tissue from the pregnancy in my uterus that was causing an infection and resulting in the fever, chills, cramping, body pain that I was experiencing.

The tissue needed to be removed as soon as possible, so I was checked into the hospital Friday afternoon for a follow-up procedure that evening, and a night of monitoring and antibiotics to ensure the infection was under control.

I was released from the hospital late Saturday afternoon, and have been taking it as easy as possible since then. I have a follow-up appointment with my OBGYN tomorrow to make sure things are still healing as expected, and to talk a little more about what the Partial Molar Pregnancy means for our baby plans in the future. We’ve learned some things about molar pregnancies in the last few days, but should learn more tomorrow. This post is pretty long already, so I’ll talk more on that in my next post.

So that is that. It’s hard to believe that only two and a half weeks have passed. Because it’s been such an awful time, it feels more like two months than two weeks. To go from being so happy and excited about something, to so sad and devastated has been heartbreaking. I’m not going to speak for Andrew, but I definitely have felt sorry for myself multiple times over the last couple of weeks and wondered why me?

I know I joke a lot about having a lifetime “get out of jail free” card because I had cancer almost 4 years ago now, but I certainly don’t expect that to be the case. I just wasn’t expecting another of life’s unfortunate curveballs to be thrown my way so soon again. I’m trying my best to keep a positive attitude and find the good in the situation, but when it’s dealing with something that I’ve wanted and looked forward to for so long now, I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been a struggle.

As the saying goes….This Too Shall Pass. Thank you for the continued thoughts and prayers in this really difficult time.

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Golomb Party of 3!

March 13th, 2014 — 5:24pm

I haven’t posted in a while now because I’m not very good at keeping exciting secrets….and I have a really good one. Andrew and I are having a baby! As of today I’m 10 weeks pregnant (official due date is October 9th), so technically we’re a party of 2.25. And I know it’s still pretty early to tell people, but it’s too hard not to share anymore. Lord knows I share a lot on this blog already, so why not add this to the list?

One of my biggest concerns coming out of my cancer treatments was that I wouldn’t be able to get pregnant. Age was going to be a factor (I’ll be 36 in less than 2 months) and chemo is tough on the body…especially the ovaries. I took precautions during chemo by using Depo Lupron shots, but it’s still always been a nagging concern in the back of my mind. So to get pregnant as quickly as we did after the wedding was a pleasant surprise.

I’ve had two ultrasounds…one at 5.5 weeks and a second at 8.5 weeks. The technician said that so far things look normal…as much as you can tell from something that’s the approximate size of a blueberry. And we got to hear the heartbeat at the second ultrasound, which was pretty neat!

Not to harp on the age thing, but because I’m of “advanced maternal age”, I’m considered a high risk pregnancy. As such, I’ll be having additional testing done throughout the course of my pregnancy. The first test with be next Friday and will focus on the genetics of the baby. They’ll check for chromosomal abnormalities, such as down syndrome and trisomy 18, and open spine defects, such as spina bifida. They’ll also be able to determine gender of the baby with the test….so we will find out very soon if we’re having a girl or a boy!!

I’m actually pretty happy about the additional testing. I’ve always feared that my eggs have been severely damaged from the chemo. So not only has being able to get pregnant been a concern in my mind the last few years, so has being able to have a healthy baby. I’m so scared that my damaged eggs will result in a mutant baby with 3 arms and 4 legs…so having the genetic testing done in the next few weeks and hopefully being able to put my mind at ease is a very welcome thing.

How have I been feeling? Awful! I’ve had nausea pretty much since day one of finding out I was pregnant, and have been vomiting consistently every day for the last 4 weeks…making for a couple very interesting work trips. My doctor tells me it should hopefully go away in the next 2 weeks or so, but I’ll believe it when I see it. I’m way too familiar with the insides of our toilets right now to believe that in 2 weeks time I could be back to the land of eating without vomiting. In the meantime, I’ve been drinking as much water and Gatorade as I can keep down…..and eating whatever food sounds good to be on any given day. It’s hasn’t been the healthiest of choices lately, but it pretty much comes back up 30 minutes later so I don’t see the harm 

What does this mean for my reconstruction? That’s on hold indefinitely….at least until after the baby comes. I still have my expander in…and it’s still pretty much maxed out at 330 CCs of fluid. I have to go back for a checkup with Dr. Harper here in the next few weeks. I may talk to him about potentially removing some of the fluid in the expander because, as anyone who’s been pregnant before can attest to, my boobs are huge now! And if I thought the expander was uncomfortable before, it’s downright painful at times now. We shall see what he says!!

First photo of our baby….

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3 Years in the Making…

January 23rd, 2014 — 4:07pm

….and I’m finally back to where I started!! I was looking through old photos from my pre-cancer days and it dawned on me…my hair is officially back to the same length it was before I started chemo…pretty exciting right!

I put one of these videos together about 2 years ago, and this one was even more so exciting for me to watch. I can’t believe how far I’ve come in the last 3 years and it surprised me how hard it was to look back at some of those pictures.


I was in a really dark and unhappy place in my life coming out of chemo, and I don’t think I noticed it before, but I can definitely see the sadness in my eyes now as I looked back through some of the earlier pictures. I continue to be so grateful for every day of my life since that period of time. Life is so short and precious…you really need to make the most of every day you have.

So for anyone out there that is going through something similar, just keep pushing. There is a light at the end of the tunnel…I’m so appreciative to be an example of that!!

And for all the ladies who’ve mourned the loss of their own long hair because of that crazy, evil beast we call cancer….your hair WILL grow back. It may take 3 years and a lot of awkward hair “phases” to get there, but it will happen! :)

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New Year, New Name, New Job….So Much To Be Thankful For

January 2nd, 2014 — 7:37pm

Happy New Year!!  It’s been sooooooooo long since my last update, but life has been an absolute whirlwind the last few months.

The biggest thing that’s happened is that Andrew and I are finally married!!! We tied the knot on October 26th and aside from one small snafu with my bouquet, the day was perfect!  The food, cake, location, décor, music, pictures, dress, hair, etc. were all amazing and made for an unforgettable day to spend with our close family and friends. 

Now comes the decision of determining my new name…Nicole Elizabeth Golomb, Nicole Bills Golomb, Nicole Elizabeth Bills-Golomb….or go the completely untraditional route and put the responsibility of name changing back on my new husband…Andrew Bills.  Ha, just kidding on that one.  I know Andrew would pretty much anything for me, but changing his name is where he’d draw the line J

Here are a few of my favorite photos from the wedding.  If you want to see a full run down of the day, you can check them out here:

After the wedding, we headed to the French Polynesia for an unbelievable two weeks of rest and relaxation…and much needed after the last few months of wedding planning.  By no means was I a bridezilla, but I definitely was stressed out by the time the wedding arrived thanks to my love of being in control of things and my DIY mentality.

And because getting married wasn’t enough, I decided to accept a new position at work and started my new job my first day back after the wedding.  This new job involves travel to India and the Philippines four times a year and the first trip was in December.  So three weeks after we got home from the honeymoon, I set off half way around the world to spend two weeks in India.  I’m definitely racking up the airline miles!!

On the boob front, I’ve seen Dr. Harper a few times over the last few months.  Twice he’s put more fluid into my expander.  It’s got a whopping 330 cc’s of fluid in there now…which is about 120 cc’s more then I have in the implant on my left side.  I’m very lopsided again and feel like all the work he did back in September to make me look more proportional was a complete waste at this point…even though I know that they were necessary in the long run.

I see him again the middle of February and should know more about what the plan is there year in regards to my construction.  I know I’ve got at least one if not two fat grafting sessions where he’ll inject fat on top of my expander.  And then finally swapping out the expander for a new implant….all of course dependent on when babies potentially happen.

I’m excited to see all that 2014 will hold and continue to be amazed by the love and support I receive from my friends and family.

The photos below are from December…I’ve honestly lost track of the exact number of weeks at this point point but these are from approximately 3 years 1 month post chemo….

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Feeling good…looking even better!!

September 23rd, 2013 — 7:52pm

It’s been a full week since my surgery and I’m feeling pretty good again. For some reason this time around, I had some issues with either the anesthesia or the pain medicine they gave me in the recovery room. I woke up from surgery in a lot of pain, and the nurse gave me some pain meds. I’m not sure what the medicine was, because I was still coming out of my medical induced slumber, but whatever it was it was strong enough to take away the pain in a matter of seconds.

Life was great for the next 15 minutes, and then it went downhill pretty quickly. I started to get incredibly queasy and proceeded to vomit on and off for the next hour and a half. Every time I tried to get up out of my chair to head home, without fail the mouth juices would start flowing and I’d get sick. I haven’t had issues with throwing up in my previous surgeries, which is why I think it was more related to the pain meds. Eventually though I was able to get dressed and into my wheelchair to be wheeled out to the car with my to-go barf bag.

Aside from the initial vomiting issues, the surgery itself went really well! I don’t want to jinx myself, but I’m VERY happy with the cosmetic changes Dr. Harper was able to make this time around. This was the first surgery where when I looked in the mirror at my results for the first time I was excited about what I saw!!

Like I said though, I don’t want to get too excited yet because the swelling still needs to subside enough to where I’ll be able to see exactly what I’m working with now :)

I go in tomorrow to get my stitches out…thank goodness because they are so itchy right now!! I’ll talk to Dr. Harper about what our next steps to finally put a nail the boob job coffin. I know I’ll definitely have one more surgery to swap out my expander for an implant. But there is the possibility of another additional surgery before the expander swap.

Dr. Harper continues to be very happy with how my skin and tissue are reacting to the expander. When I saw Dr. Harper on Tuesday for my post surgery check-up, he mentioned that he may was to do the fat grafting (aka lipo) and injection of fat on top of the expander before he puts the implant in. That obviously wouldn’t be before the wedding, but potentially before end of year.

All in all, I’m really happy with how I look right now. I’m much more proportional and symmetrical than I was before, and think I look pretty damn good. So way to go Dr. Harper!! You’ve pleased a really tough critic!!

Thanks so much for all of the kind words of support and encouragement….they mean the world to me!! xoxo

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Slight change of plans…Surgery tomorrow!

September 15th, 2013 — 7:42pm

I met with Dr. Harper about two weeks ago to discuss what the next steps were in my reconstruction process.  Initially, the plan was to have one final surgery…swap the expander with an implant, make some lingering cosmetic updates to both boobs, and my favorite…fat grafting to inject in my cancer boob.

At my appointment, Dr. Harper was again very happy with how my skin and boob were reacting to the expander, but unfortunately felt like it’s still too soon to remove it.  I obviously was pushing for soon rather than later due to the proximity of the wedding….6 weeks away at this point, crazy!!

Upon hearing the news that Dr. Harper wanted to wait on removing the expander, I once again found myself fighting to keep back tears on his office table.  I feel incredibly self-conscience right now because my right and left boobs are completely lopsided.  It may not be noticeable to others when I have clothes on, but it’s the one thing I hone in on when I look at myself naked in the mirror.

I finally tried my wedding dress on for my first fitting last weekend, and aside from feeling like a stuffed sausage in the dress (mama’s got some work to do in the fitness department), I was totally self-conscience that my boobs looked uneven.  Not really something I want to be worrying about on my wedding day.

I don’t know if he noticed that I was getting upset, but Dr. Harper went on to propose a compromise that I’m very happy with….he’ll make the cosmetic changes I want and match my left boob in symmetry to my right before the wedding if I agree to keep the expander in for a good while longer.  Done!!

The expander is slightly firmer than an implant would be, but the most important thing to me right now is that I look symmetrical.  So Dr. Harper agreeing to do that makes me so happy!!  And the best part, he was able to squeeze me into his schedule for the 16th, so that means I’ll be going back into the operating room tomorrow at 1pm!!  I’m so excited and have been praying things go smoothly tomorrow and that I come out looking like a million bucks!

Many of you know Andrew and I want to try to have kids immediately after the wedding.  With the expander being left in for at least a few more months, there is the chance that I could get pregnant before Dr. Harper is ready to swap it out.  Dr. Harper assured me that it wouldn’t be detrimental to my pregnancy and that after the baby was born, we could back and make the exchange for an implant.

All in all, good news on all fronts.  I’m looking forward to tomorrow and even more excited about seeing the results of the surgery.  If you’re feeling like you’re in a generous mood, I’ll take whatever positive thoughts and vibes you can send my way for a successful surgery!!  Thank you in advance :)

I don’t have any new hair progress pictures yet.  I do have some photos of my hair in it’s natural state now.  I blow dry and style my hair every day now that it’s longer….and get a lot of questions about whether or not all of the curl I had in the year following chemo has grown out…so I thought I would show you what my hair looks like now if I just let it air dry…pretty fugly if you ask me!!

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Two months…eek!!!!

August 26th, 2013 — 5:26pm

As of today, the wedding is officially 2 months away!!!  O…M…GEEEEEEE!!  This is really happening…and I have the photo to prove it.  All invitations are officially in the mail and awaiting the RSVPs of our close friends and family!!

Two months time is just crazy to think about!  2 months until I get to marry the man of my dreams :)  2 months until I no longer have to answer the question “how’s wedding planning going?”  And 2 months until Andrew and I are relaxing on the beach here….

Eeeeeeeeeek!  So freaking excited!!  I’m looking forward to having all of our friends and family in town for hopefully a fun filled weekend….but I’m REALLY excited about getting away for two weeks, relaxing on the beach, and having a lot of fruity cocktails that cost 5 times what they should!!

With the wedding being so close, time is really of the essence to finish my reconstruction.  I had an appointment with Dr. Harper two weeks ago where we caught up on my progress.  He’s very happy with how my skin is reacting to the expander.  And very happy with the results of the lymphedema therapy he sent me to for a  month (essentially a gentle massage of my boobs to prevent the excess fluid from hardening and becoming scar tissue).  So happy that he injected another 30-40 CCs of fluid into my expander at my last appointment.  I thought my boobs were lopsided 3 weeks ago, it’s like a freak show now!!

We (and when I say we, it really means he) still haven’t decided on when the next surgery will be.  I’m really pushing for 3-4 weeks from now.   That way I’ll have several weeks to recover prior to my bachelorette party, and then be fully healed by the wedding/honeymoon.

Dr. Harper may potentially want to wait until after the wedding to do the next surgery.  He’s looking at the bigger picture and what will be best for my reconstruction process long term, while I’m stuck looking at the immediate picture, and what will make me look the best in a swimsuit 2 months from now.

Slight disconnect…and as much as I hate to admit it, his vote is going to veto mine :(  My next appointment is in a week, and we should come up with our final plan at that point.  He did confirm in my last appointment that he’ll be doing the fat grafting procedure (aka liposuction) with this next surgery, which had me skipping out of the office like a school girl!! 

And I don’t think I’d ever admit this to him, but having the liposuction as part of the next go around makes me want to do it sooner rather than later even more!!  What woman wouldn’t want liposuction and a new set of boobs right before their wedding and honeymoon??  I doubt you could find me one that would turn it down.  That’s essentially a total body make-over….get your problem areas cleaned up just in time to relax on the beach for two weeks.  Dream come true!! 

No pressure on Dr. Harper, but the entire fate of how I will look on my wedding day is resting in his hands.  If everyone could send him mental vibes to “schedule Nicole’s surgery before the wedding” over the next week I’d really appreciate it!

These are about a week or so old now, but photos from 145 weeks post chemo are below…

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Feeling very full

July 11th, 2013 — 5:16pm

Today marks 6 weeks since my last surgery.  Overall, I’m feeling pretty good…very full….but good.  Originally I thought I was going to have injections into my expander every Friday for 1 – 2 months.  What actually happened was I only needed to have weekly injections for 3 weeks!

I’m deathly afraid of needles, so Dr. Harper was kind enough to be aggressive with my injections and make the most of each of the 3 that I had.  During surgery, he put 50 CCs of fluid in the expander.  Each of the subsequent injections he continued to put 50 CCs of fluid in so I achieved max capacity of 200 CCs in my expander much quicker then I was expecting.  One of the many reasons I’m so happy I went to Dr. Harper for my reconstruction process.  And with 200 CCs occupying the lower half of my boob, I’m feeling very full these days!

So what does the expansion injection process entail?  The whole thing really takes less than 5 minutes.  A big syringe is filled with what I assumed was saline.  The syringe is connected to a little tube that ultimately ended with what Dr. Harper called a paper thin needle.  This is one area where I will have to disagree with Dr. Harper.  What he called a paper thin needle looked like knitting needle to me….far from thin.  This difference of opinion may have more to do with my insane fear of needles then the actual size of the needle…but to save face, we’ll just move forward assuming it’s the biggest needle ever.

Once the syringe was ready to go, Dr. Harper used a little magnetic device to locate the area of my expander where the needle needed to be stuck through to inject the fluid.  After disinfecting the appropriate area, he stuck the needle in and injected all the fluid.  And that’s really it….short and sweet.

My injections always took a little bit longer, because I have a tendency to freak out anytime a needle comes close to me.  So there were always a few failed attempts before I actually let Dr. Harper stick me.  And fortunately because the tissue in my boob was still so numb from surgery, I didn’t really feel a thing in any of the 3 injections.  So I pretty much made a big deal out of nothing….typical Nicole style :)

Being aggressive with my injections meant that I did experience some discomfort over the last few weeks.  After my first one, I woke up Saturday morning feeling a lot of discomfort, with an incredibly swollen nipple, and some redness / feverish area on my boob.  I was really concerned about possibly having an infection, so Andrew called Dr. Harper to talk through my issues.  After texting over a few photos of my boob, Dr. Harper assured me that he thought everything looked normal and gave me a small prescription for an antibiotic just to be on the safe side.

Side note…I have to have the best fiancé in the world because he was willing to text essentially a half naked photo of me to another guy from his phone.  Granted, the other guy was a doctor, but still.  The things you do for love!

Fortunately, the redness and pain subsided by Monday morning.  Nothing really of significance came out of my second injection…I just felt very tight after.  My third injection was by far the worse.  With the third, my expander was filled to its intended capacity, 200 CCs.  Because everything is tightly packed into my boob at this point, the expander was sitting on my ribcage in a rather painful position.  For the first 3 days following the injection, I was unable to take a full breath.  Each time I tried, I would get a shooting pain in my ribs.  It really sucked and I ended up spending the better part of the weekend panting and feeling like I was constantly out of breath.

I thought I was going to have to go in and get some fluid removed, but my skin stretched enough over those first few days and the pressure on my ribs eased enough by Monday to feel comfortable again.

And now it’s just a waiting game.  I’m not really sure if the expander is doing what it should be doing at this point.  I’ll see Dr. Harper again tomorrow for the first time in 2 weeks to check in and see how I’m progressing.  I’m hoping we’ll get my next surgery on the calendar so I can have an end goal to look forward to.  I’m not 100% sure that my next surgery will be my last, but it definitely helps to have something to be working towards.

Photos from 140 weeks post chemo are below…

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Three year cancerversary!!

June 18th, 2013 — 6:01pm

I can’t remember who I’m stealing it from…and I’m actually a little disappointed I didn’t think of it myself…but today marks my three year cancerversary! THREE YEARS! That’s just crazy. When I was initially diagnosed, I was scared I wouldn’t live to see another three months. So to be three years out from that awful day now is pretty amazing!

For those of your who aren’t up on the cancer lingo, cancerversary is the day you received your cancer diagnosis….cancer + anniversary = cancerversary….celebrated much like you would celebrate any other anniversary. Some people may find it strange to celebrate the anniversary of such an awful day, but when you’re cancer free, everything is cause for celebration!

So many good things have happened in my life over the course of the last three years, and I’m so grateful for all of it. Cancer puts many things in life into perspective and means something different for everyone.

For me, cancer was freedom. Freedom from a life of pleasing others and freedom from a life of putting other people’s happiness before my own. Prior to my cancer diagnosis, I had worked myself into a rut of unhappiness. I had a hard time standing up for myself and was too busy worrying about other people to realize that life was passing me by.

And then I got my wake-up call. Since my diagnosis, I’ve learned to appreciate each and every day. Because each day cancer now is truly a blessing. My eyes have been opened to all of the beautiful things life has to offer…and I wake up each morning thankful for my life now and excited to see what the future holds.

To each and every person who’s supported me along this crazy journey…whether it was an email, phone call, text message, following this blog, etc….thank you! Thank you for being a constant source of encouragement and helping me through some pretty dark days.

I’m a lucky girl!! :) xoxo

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Feeling pretty much back to normal…

June 13th, 2013 — 6:04pm

It’s been two full weeks since my surgery, and life it pretty much back to normal! I’m driving again, sleeping in bed again, back in the office again, bathing regularly again :) ….essentially everything but working out again, which really sucks, but could be worse.

A few years ago I forced myself to become a morning workout person. It’s a great way to start the day, and leaves my evenings open to do whatever I want. As much as I may dread or complain about waking up at 5am, not being able to work out right now makes my days feel a little off and my body feel like a slug. But like I said, there are a lot worse things in life then not being able to work out for a few weeks.

My surgery was scheduled for 12pm, so Andrew and I headed to the hospital around 9am. Biggest con of having surgery in the hospital vs. the doctor’s office….having to be there 3 hours in advance. There’s much more paperwork and overhead involved with being admitted into the hospital as opposed to just checking in at the front desk of Charlotte Plastic Surgery.

The nurse took me back to for initial prep which involved taking all of my vital stats, confirming a non-prego status, changing into my surgery attire, and administering the iv. So a few things here…

First, the hospital gown they put me in was awesome!!! It came with my own personal heating and cooling system. There was a tube that attached to the gown that pumped in whatever temperature air I selected on the remote. And instead of the ugly brown socks I’ve gotten in most of my previous surgeries, I got a bright yellow pair this time…loved them!

Second, I know I have strange quirks sometimes, but I find it really exciting waiting for the nurse to deliver my pregnancy test results (for all of my surgeries). Despite the fact that I knew I wasn’t pregnant, I still felt a nervous excitement that she could come back and tell me that my test was positive. I guess that’s what happens when you have babies on the brain.

And third, thanks to my veins not cooperating, I ended up with an IV in what I consider to be one of the worst locations ever. The nurse had several failed attempts at putting the IV in the top part of my wrist / forearm, where 99.9% of IVs typically go, but my veins kept collapsing.

I had worked out the day before my surgery, and didn’t have any water past 10pm the night before, so I think was just dehydrated. And because the veins in my right arm can’t be used for anything anymore (in fear of lymphedema), my left can be overused at times. I of course got super light headed and broke out into a sweat with the failed IV attempts and ended up having to crank the AC up on my personal cooling gown. Very helpful!

It wasn’t until she called in the anesthesiologist to try to do it that I ended up with an IV on the underside of my wrist where the veins are literally 1mm in diameter….I’m still amazed she was able to get something in there.

Once I was finally settled in my pre-op area, Andrew was allowed to come back and hang out with me. Biggest pro of having surgery in the hospital :)

So how did the surgery go? Really well! Dr. Harper was able to remove all of the scar tissue that he set out to remove, he successfully took out my implant and replaced it with the expander, and most importantly to me, he repositioned my nipple to its appropriate location. I’m left with what I consider to be a nicely shaped, very perky, smallish boob. It’s not as small as I was expecting it to be, but it’s noticeably smaller than my left side.

In an effort to minimize the chances of scar tissue forming again, Dr. Harper inserted a drain during surgery like he told me he may do. The drain came out the side of my ribcage, a few inches below my armpit, and suctioned out the excess fluid into a container that looked like a grenade.

I was hoping to only have the drain in over the weekend and get it removed on Monday, but I was still producing enough fluid to warrant Dr. Harper suggesting it to remain in until Friday….a full 8 days with that bad boy!

The drain itself wasn’t painful; the long tube was just more of a nuisance. As I became more mobile and doing more for myself, I’d just tuck the grenade in the pocket of a sweatshirt or the sweat pants I was wearing. It was very easy to forget about, so if I wasn’t paying attention, I’d turn or walk around a corner and snag the tube on something….which would result in the tube tugging at the site where a tiny stitch held it in place. Fortunately, I never snagged it hard enough to pull it out of place, just enough to make it a little uncomfortable for a minute or two. The drain is removed now though, so I don’t have to worry about it anymore.

My right boob it still primarily numb from surgery and pretty sore / very tender to touch. Dr. Harper has given me strict instructions to massage it with as much pressure as I can handle in an effort to prevent fluid buildup…so I’m sure that’s adding a little to my discomfort.

I go back tomorrow to get my stitches out and for my first round of injections into the expander. There’s 50 cc’s of fluid in there right now, and I think Dr. Harper will try to do another 50 cc’s with this first injection. Wish me luck!!

No hair photos until my next blog posting :(

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Surgery in the morning!!

May 29th, 2013 — 4:45pm

I had my final pre-op appointment with Dr. Harper yesterday to talk through everything that would happen during my surgery tomorrow. He confirmed that he won’t be touching my left boob this time around…and walked through again what he’ll be doing to the right side…it’s everything I was expecting with a few potential additions.

To recap, he’s taking out my right implant, removing / cleaning up all the scar tissue, and then putting in the tissue expander. All things I’ve known about since we discussed the change in direction for my reconstruction plans. So what’s new?

In addition to the 3 procedures listed above, Dr. Harper will also be using Alloderm in the hopes that my healthy, soft breast tissue will continue to remain that way after surgery. The way he described it, Alloderm is essentially cadaver tissue that “allows for a strong, intact repair in challenging hernia and breast reconstruction post mastectomy procedures by providing soft tissue reinforcement or replacement.” Essentially, it helps to control the shape of your boob…which is something I need help with. My lumpectomy scar has historically had a mind of its own and has left me looking a little freaky over the last 2 ½ years. So fingers crossed that the addition of Alloderm this time around will help do the trick!!

I also learned a little more about how the expander works. My expander will look like an implant essentially cut in half. It will be this shape because I only need the tissue on the underside of my boob to stretch. To make sure that the expander does its job and doesn’t get out of place, it will be attached to my chest wall ensuring that as my weekly injections into the expander progress, they are stretching the skin on the lower part of my boob. I found this all pretty educational as I’ve been wondering how it wouldn’t just be floating around in there like my implants are right now.

And finally, Dr. Harper said I may emerge from surgery with a drain this time….which would really suck. I don’t recall why I would need one this time around. I zoned out as soon as he said drain thinking about how awful it will be to something hanging from my body and didn’t really hear anything he said after that. As fearful as I am of needles, I’m equally fearful of having something hanging from my body that will need to be emptied, cleaned, touched multiple times a day. Yuck!

So here’s to hoping that it’s not necessary!! My surgery starts around noon tomorrow and will take between 2-3 hours. Because of insurance reasons, this surgery will be at the hospital instead of their offices like my first two…..which is good and bad. Bad because I have to be there almost 3 hours before my surgery time….and good because Andrew gets to come back in the prepping area and hang out with until I go into the operating room! For my surgeries in the office, I was back there sitting by myself…granted it was only for about 30 minutes, but still, it got pretty boring.

So that’s that. I’m praying every goes as Dr. Harper hopes tomorrow, and would definitely appreciate continued thoughts and prayers!!

Photos from 133 weeks post chemo are below….

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Boobs and Babies

May 20th, 2013 — 3:04pm

Thank you so much for all of the positive comments and thoughts sent my way after my last blog post.  It definitely wasn’t how I envisioned things to happen in my head, but I’ve had some time now to digest it all and have a much better outlook on the surgeries I’ll be having in the next 4-5 months and am ready to get the show on the road!  That’s the thing about life….just when you think things are settling down nicely, a crazy curveball is thrown your way juuuuuuuust to keep things interesting :)

I found out that my next surgery will be Thursday, May 30th.  As a recap, Dr. Harper will remove the implant on my right side, clean-up/remove all of the hard/scar tissue once again, put in an expander, and reposition my nipple.  I’m not sure what if anything he’ll be doing on my left side.

Following this surgery, I’ll have two months of weekly injections into the expander.  I’m not exactly sure how that works.  After the last 3 years, I’m still deathly afraid of needles…so I’m hoping the process isn’t what I’m envisioning in my head…Dr. Harper walks in with a syringe full of saline and essentially just sticks me in the boob to inject it into the expander.  I can’t really think of any other way to accomplish the task at hand, so I’m guessing this is my only option.  Maybe I’ll do a video blog of one of the weekly injections to share with you all how exactly it works.

If these next few procedures don’t make me look normal again, I’m not sure what the plan will be.  Worst case scenario, Dr. Harper mentioned that he’d probably need to take some skin and tissue from my back….to help form a new boob in the event of expansion failure.  I’m not on board with this plan at all….and really had to fight back tears when he started talking about that.  I don’t want a big scar on my back…despite it being under my bra line.  The scars I have right now are reminder enough of my cancer…I really don’t want to add to them.

I sometimes wish I would have just had the mastectomy 3 years ago and been done with it.  I wasn’t prepared to make that decision then, but looking back, if I had to do it all over again, I would’ve said cut them off and not have thought twice about it.  I’ve seen some pretty amazing post mastectomy reconstructions over the last two years…ones that look way better than mine and it just makes me wonder.  I realize the grass isn’t always greener…but the more time goes one, the more I wish I would have made a different decision back then.

In happier news, I had my big appointment with Dr. Frenette two weeks…and I’m so happy to report that the conversation went really well!!  The appointment was my standard 6 month check-up, but also to discuss the possibility of having children within the next year.

The plan I have laid out in my head….get married in October, get pregnant shortly thereafter J  I’ve been stressing about this conversation with Dr. Frenette pretty much since my last appointment 6 months ago.  I brought it up to him at that point to prep him that I wanted to have a serious conversation about it….which he said we could do at my next appointment (two weeks ago).

Fortunately, Dr. Frenette doesn’t see any compelling reasons why he wouldn’t be comfortable with me trying to get pregnant following the wedding.  He said that studies are finding now that being pregnancy doesn’t actually increase your risk of recurrence….his primary concern is just the amount of time I’m off of my tamoxifen.  So basically, he wants me to start taking my tamoxifen again immediately after a baby is born. 

He advises against breastfeeding, ultimately because it would prolong my tamoxifen-free time….but that’s a decision I need to make on my own.  Because of the radiation and all the surgeries removing tissue, it’s very unlikely that I would even produce milk on my right side….so this may not even be something I need to decide on…my body may decide it on its own.

He also mentioned that studies are finding that if you eat healthy and maintain a regular exercise schedule, which I do, your rate of recurrence is lowered by about the same percentage as taking tamoxifen.  Essentially, if I continue to eat healthy and exercise during pregnancy, which is the plan, I will see the same benefits as the tamoxifen alone.  I wonder if that also means that if I work out twice as much as the recommended 3-4 hours a week I could eliminate tamoxifen completely from my life.  Probably not, but a girl can dream!

All in all, it was a very positive conversation.  And as of this last appointment, I switch to yearly appointments instead of every 6 months.  So next time I see Dr. Frenette I’ll hopefully be with child.

I don’t have any of my regular pictures to post right now.  Andrew has been in Italy the last 8 days and my hair is too long in back to take the pictures myself anymore. What can I say….#longhairproblems

I do have some of our engagement pictures that I can share!!  We had them done about 3 weeks ago now…and we love them!  Julie Staley from Old South Studios did an awesome job!!!  Here are a few of my favorites, but you can see more on her blog at:


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Back to Square One :(

April 29th, 2013 — 4:26pm

I had my 4 month post op appointment with Dr. Harper last Friday and it really didn’t go the way I was hoping.  Instead of spending my time convincing Dr. Harper how we could get everything done with this next surgery and make it my last, he spent the appointment explaining to me why we needed reset the whole reconstruction process and start again from square one.  Hmph :(

I wrote previously about how the skin in my right boob (cancer boob) isn’t stretching the way it should with the implant in there and really causing things to look less than ideal again.  You never know how skin will react after radiation…and well, mine isn’t behaving very well.  We removed all of the hard, scarred tissue during my first surgery…but it’s unfortunately built up again over the course of the last 6 months.  I don’t know if it’s the firmness of the tissue that’s preventing the proper stretching from happening, if it’s a continued side effect from radiation, or if my boob is just plain stubborn, but here’s where “square one” comes into play.

Surgery 1 take 2 will involve Dr. Harper removing my implant, cleaning out / removing all of the hard tissue that I have, and repositioning my nipple.  Because there’s a good amount of tissue that will be removed and my skin has a proven history of not acting as it should…he’ll be putting an expander in my right side instead of a new implant.  For the following two months, I’ll have to make weekly trips to the doctor’s office to have more and more fluid added to the expander….and (fingers crossed) stretch the skin on the underside of my boob once and for all. 

Why is it so important for my skin to stretch?  Without the proper stretching, the implant will always sit higher and will more than likely always pull on my nipple and make me look like Frankboobenstine.

Once he’s happy with the amount of fluid that’s in the expander, I’ll have to wait another month before he goes back in and replaces both of my implants with a fairly new product called the Gummy Bear.  The Gummy Bear is supposed to be a good option for women undergoing reconstruction following breast cancer because the implant “contains more cross-linking in the silicone gel than earlier models which makes it more cohesive, which in turn makes the implants firmer”.  And which is exactly what I need…a firmer implant that will hold its shape under the pressure of my lumpectomy scar.

The potential 5th surgery, yes I said 5th, will involve the fat grafting (aka silver lining) I wrote about after my second surgery.  IF the site of my lumpectomy continues to remain flat with the new implant, Dr. Harper will “harvest” fat (hopefully from my thighs) to inject behind my lumpectomy scar.

It’s all very frustrating and not really what I wanted to be worrying about in the months leading up to the wedding, but it can always be worse right?  I’m hoping the implant / expander swap will happen in the next few weeks, so I can get my Gummy Bears the beginning of September.  I have no idea how the expander will look, or if I’ll be completely lopsided once it’s reached max capacity, but one bulging boob is not the look I was going for on my wedding day.

I’m trying really hard to keep things in perspective.  Friday’s appointment was the first of two big appointments within the week and if one has to not go the way I want, I definitely want it to be the boob one.  I have my other big appointment with my oncologist Dr. Frenette tomorrow.  It’s my standard 6 month check up, but I’m going to be talking to him about when realistically I can stop taking my tamoxifen and have babies.  I have a timeline in my head of how I want things to go, I just need to get him to agree with it….and him not agreeing with me on this topic is going to be a much bigger pill to swallow than Dr. Harper telling me I need 2 – 3 more surgeries. Stay tuned!

Photos from 126 post chemo are below…

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My Second Year as a “Model”

April 15th, 2013 — 5:07pm

I’m so excited to share that the creative geniuses behind the Ford Warriors in Pink Models of Courage program decided that just one year with the 11 “models” of courage they selected for 2012 wasn’t enough….and have asked us all back for a second year!  They notified us about two months ago, but we weren’t able to share until recently.

As I’ve previously written, Ford Motor Company has been active in the fight against breast cancer since 1993.  In its 19th year of raising awareness of breast cancer, Ford Warriors in Pink created the Models of Courage campaign to celebrate breast cancer survivors who have demonstrated strength and courage in their battle.  Ford uses broad outreach to help keep the topic of breast cancer a part of everyday conversation.  The goal is to encourage women and men to engage in self-exams and self-care, which could lead to earlier diagnoses and in turn could save lives.

Starting in 2006, Ford began creating a line of breast cancer themed clothing and gear that they sell at  The clothes depict a warrior mentality, because let’s be honest, anyone who faces a fight against breast cancer is truly a warrior!!  The best part of the clothes…100% of the net proceeds are donated to the fight against breast cancer.

Last year I was introduce to an amazing group of people and was able to do some really incredible things through Warriors in Pink.  They flew us out to LA for a photo shoot, brought us to NY for the big launch event, I even had an opportunity to be on The Today Show with Kathie Lee and Hoda!!  All very fun and exciting things, but pale in comparison to the self-confidence and happiness the program has brought.

Having a group of 10 other survivors to talk to about the things I had / was going through, was priceless.  As a younger woman with breast cancer, there aren’t always a lot of people who can relate.  Being introduced to those 10 other people and them instantly understanding what I’ve been through was something new to me.  Initially I shied away support groups.  I didn’t think they would really help me at all, and honestly, I wasn’t really in a mood to share my thoughts and feelings.  (Who knew I’d grow into such an open book!!)  Having my own personal support group pretty much delivered on my front door was a dream come true…and getting another year with what seems like an instant family was totally unexpected!

So what does the Model of Courage program include this year?  Great question!!  A few weeks ago they flew us all out to Austin, TX for the 2013 “summit”.  We had a day of interview sessions.  Interviews were conducted a little differently this year.  I don’t want to get in trouble so I can’t share anything about them, but I think they have potential to be pretty neat!  And then a full day photo shoot “modeling” the new apparel for the year.  Oh how I love having my hair and make-up done by professionals!!

There’s a few really cute new pieces this year…so I encourage everyone to shop  The new pieces won’t be able until summer, but there are still clothes from last year you can purchase, and you can read more information about the Models of Courage program as well.  We all asked repeatedly what they had in store for us throughout the remainder of the year….but the Warriors in Pink team remained tight lipped about the fun things they have in store.  I can’t speak for the other “models”, but I for one can’t wait!!

Nothing else too exciting to report really.  My boobs are healing pretty well and I have a follow-up appointment next week to talk about my next surgery.  I’ve spent a lot of time staring at my new boobs in the mirror the last four months and have some suggestions about what can maybe be done to get everything taken care of this time around and prevent a 4th surgery. I’m not a plastic surgeon though, so my ideas could very well be a pipe dream.  Who knows!

My hair is finally long enough to curl again.  I’m definitely a little rusty with the curling iron….I can’t seem to curl my hair without getting a burn of some sort.  Right now I’m walking around with what resembles a hickey on my neck….awesome.

I also have my 6 month check-up with my oncologist in the next few weeks.  This check-up could prove to be pretty interesting as I plan to approach the topic of children vs. staying on tamoxifen with him…stay tuned on that topic.

It’s earlier in the year this year, but the Jeans & Jewels Gala is already upon us again and taking place this Friday.  If you remember, this is the event I met my soon to be husband at  almost 2 years ago :)   We’re both walking in the charity fashion show for the third time.  I get to wear an awesome red dress….I’m pretty excited about it!!

And finally, Andrew and I are getting engagement photos taken on Sunday!  We hadn’t initially planned on doing them, but an opportunity presented itself so we’re going to take it :)

Photos from 124 weeks post chemo are below….

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