In April 2001, I was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer. I was a news anchor for WESH-TV, and there was no way I’d be able to hide the soon-to-be bald head, freakishly pale skin, and weight loss of chemotherapy…. or the repeated multiple days I’d miss from work. I also didn’t want to push my autobiography on the 6 pm news. So to share may story and try to dispel rumors and fear, I wrote this diary. These days it would be called a blog. I was ahead of my time. 🙂 I am republishing them, mostly unedited, in hopes of inspiring and informing a new decade of cancer patients and their families. Here’s May, month one.
May 2, 2001
Hi. By now you’ve heard about my next big challenge. I was diagnosed with breast cancer a week ago today. I have decided to share my story with you, because it may prompt you and others to take action. I detected the lump in my breast a couple of weeks before the Boston Marathon. When I returned, I saw a doctor and had a mammogram. It showed nothing unusual. But my doctor — because I told her I had felt a lump — ordered an ultrasound. That’s where my tumor showed up. I’ll have the tumor taken out on Wednesday. I’ll also have what’s called sentinel lymph-node mapping, so I can have as few lymph nodes, if any, removed as possible. I am not afraid of what’s to come. Four out of four of my doctors say that my chances of full recovery are excellent, and I believe them.
What I ask of you, is to take my situation and learn from it. Who would have thought breast cancer could happen to me? If it happened to me, it could happen to anyone. Please see your doctor and ask questions. And I’ll see you a week from Monday.
The Reaction, The Plan
May 11, 2001
Over the last two weeks since I told you I have breast cancer, I have been overwhelmed with the number of e-mails, letters, and prayers sent my way. The first thing I want to say to all of you is, “Thank you.” How can I lose this fight, with so much positive energy and strength on my side? What I’ve decided to do, to keep everyone up to date on my cancer treatment is to start a diary. I’ll tell you what I’m going through for a couple of reasons. First, it saves me from having to repeat the same story over and over. Second, I think sharing my experience can make the whole specter of cancer and cancer treatment a lot less scary for anyone who has to experience it. I’ve already received a lot of positive feedback, especially from women, for bringing a breast cancer discussion to the table.
So, here goes, with the diary. Friday is the last day I’ll be working before going into surgery again. I was hoping to be starting the second phase of my treatment, which involves chemotherapy, but it looks like that won’t happen for a couple more weeks.
Saturday, I’ll have more lymph nodes removed, since the first two that the doctors took out tested positive for cancer. I’ll also have nearly the whole breast removed, because of a condition called DCIS. That’s basically a pre-cancerous condition that probably caused my tumor to grow in the first place. I’ll have reconstruction done at the same time. My doctors say once everything’s healed, no one will be the wiser. I’m still feeling strong and confident that I will win this battle. The most amazing thing to me so far, is that I still feel no fear. There’s anxiety over surgery and the lymph nodes, but no fear. I think that comes from strong spirituality and the incredible support from everyone around me.
Keep the good thoughts coming!
The Surgery. The First One.
May 15, 2001
NewsChannel 2 anchor Wendy Chioji underwent surgery for breast cancer Saturday, and her surgeons said that there were “no surprises.”
Chioji underwent a mastectomy, lymph node dissection and reconstructive surgery. She was sent home Sunday morning with orders to take it easy. Chioji said that she was disappointed that her restrictions will include no running for a while, but she has decided to use a stationary bicycle to continue to keep in shape as she recovers. Chioji wanted to return to work right away, but has agreed to wait until later this week before resuming her duties.
Return to Work
May 17, 2001
NewsChannel 2 anchor Wendy Chioji returned to work Wednesday and told viewers that she is “feeling great and glad to be back.”
“I want to say thank you to all the hundreds of people that have sent me emails to get well for my breast cancer,” Chioji told viewers and co-anchor Jim Payne.
Chioji said that during her surgery on Saturday she had 16 additional lymph notes removed and the tests show that all 16 were free of cancer.
Chioji told viewers that the next step in her recovery was chemotherapy, which will begin in a couple of weeks.
Post-surgery and the Plan for Chemo (Part One!)
May 18, 2001
I have wonderful news to report in this week’s diary. On Tuesday, I went to visit my surgeon and found out that he took out 16 lymph nodes, along with the rest of the breast tissue and all of it was cancer free. That means I am cancer free. Yeah! I was so relieved that, for the first time since this all happened to me, I cried. I never thought I’d be excited to be looking at the prospect of chemotherapy, but this “all clear” does mean I can move on toward the end of my treatment. I also returned to the anchor desk on Wednesday. I anchored the 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. shows on Wednesday. I felt great at work, but boy was I tired that night. I slept nearly 11 hours! Then the next day I took a nap! Still, it was great to get back to work and out of the house! My first chemo treatment is scheduled for right after Memorial Day, and I’m getting ready for that. I’ve met the nurse who’ll be working with me, and I like her a lot. She explained all the potential side effects, without mincing words. I like that. I’d rather know how bad it could be and then, when it’s not quite that bad, it’s a bonus. I’ll have four cycles of standard chemo, followed by treatment with Taxol. More on that in another entry. I’m getting into a protocol, a clinical study, and I’ll have more information later. I’m also starting to take action on what I’m going to do when my hair falls out. I (sigh!) have resigned myself to the fact that it is going to happen. My hairdresser, who’s also one of my best friends, is going with me to get a wig next week. You won’t even be able to tell when I make the switch! I’m also investigating permanent make-up, for when my eyebrow hairs fall out! I’ll have more on that later, too.
I have received hundreds of e-mails and one of them this week really touched me. It was from a woman who survived breast cancer, only to find that it reappeared in her bones and her brain. She’s still fighting hard to survive, and has an incredible attitude. She could use your prayers, too.
Thanks again for your support, and keep the good thoughts coming!
Some Defensive Planning for Chemo Side Effects
May 25, 2001
This has been a really good week for me. I’m feeling better after the surgery, although I don’t have anywhere close to my normal range-of-motion in my left arm. I’m starting to do stretching exercises to get back to normal. Also, there was a lot of numbness in the surgical area that’s starting to subside. That’s a weird feeling. I plan to (finally) return to my workouts this weekend. Some spinning and running, if I feel up to it. I have the doctors’ OK. I start my chemotherapy treatments next Tuesday. I am told that treatment will last about an hour to an hour and a half. Before they put in the drugs, they’ll give me anti-nausea drugs. That’s a good thing, because a short ride on the Orbitor at the Greek Festival was enough to make me more than a little queasy. I don’t have a strong stomach.
I’ll have Ed Rose, Dr. Todd Husty’s television producer, with me for that first chemo treatment. Todd will do a story on the process of a chemotherapy treatment. I want to show folks that there’s nothing scary or mysterious about it. Lots of folks don’t even know that chemo drugs are delivered through an IV. I have already taken steps to deal with some of the side effects of the chemo — namely the hair loss. My hairdresser and I are shopping for a wig that he’ll cut and highlight for me. I anticipate losing my hair within two weeks of the first treatment. That’s what viewers and cancer survivors tell me.
I’m also going this weekend to have permanent make-up done. That’s basically a cosmetic tattooing of eyebrows. That will help me with make-up, once the eyebrow hairs fall out. I hear they don’t always, but I’m going to be prepared! I have heard all kinds of stories from cancer survivors and their families. Tips on how to deal with chemo, and what to expect. The truth is, everyone’s different, though, so we’ll see how I do. I am planning to work as much as I can throughout the six–month treatment. As I said, I feel great and am planning to enjoy my Memorial Day weekend. I’m blessed and lucky to have so many friends around me at this time and lots of friends that I’ve never even met that I’m hearing from in letters and e-mails. Those really make my day! Even though I can’t respond to every e-mail, I can assure you I am reading them all (sometimes until very late at night). I also want you to know how much they mean. You give me inspiration!
See ‘ya next week.