SAN ANTONIO – Leslie’s Diary: Thursday, Jan. 4
What a great day to be alive! I feel fantastic, love my job, love my family, the weather is beautiful, and my white cell count is through the roof! Thank you, God!
After almost two weeks of being sick, I thought I would never feel good again. I went to the doc to get blood work done one week after chemo because I just couldn't seem to get well.
It turns out my white cell count was critically low -- at 100 -- and my platelets were also a little low. My family was immediately put under a quarantine for 5 days -- not allowed to be around anyone for fear I would be exposed to some virus.
White cells fight off infections and since my cell count was critically low, I had no immune system -- no way to fight off even a common cold. I was told to stay inside, hunker down and take an injection for five days to up my count.
By New Year's Day I was finally feeling like a human being again! My latest blood count was at 13,000! That's right -- from 100 to 13,000!
I never knew how much I took my health for granted. Now I know. I am enjoying the feeling of just not feeling. Not feeling nauseous, not feeling achy, not feeling chills, not feeling downright exhausted!
I mentally go through my body and rejoice at the realization that my body is healthy. I will savor this sense of being every moment of every day until my next chemo.
Unfortunately that day is around the corner. One week from today it's back to the oncologist, back into that chair, back to having the red liquid course through my body.
I dread it. I absolutely hate the thought of it! I know it's necessary and I know it's almost over. But I don't look forward to it.
I have only two treatments to go. So after this next one it's one left!! Somehow that doesn't make it any easier, though!
Every time seems to be different and maybe this time I won't have any bad side effects at all! (Yeah, right!)
I met two women in the doctor's office who are also undergoing chemo. They have to do it once a week -- three weeks on, one week off, for one year! They are true troopers!
It's amazing how God always provides us with a reality check when we begin to feel sorry for ourselves. I realize I have nothing to complain about. Mine is only once every three weeks and only four treatments!
Oh well, I will just enjoy this next week and thank God for the good days, while praying for strength to handle the upcoming bad days!
Leslie’s Diary: Wednesday Jan. 10
Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me! Yep, it's my birthday -- 36 years young today! What a wonderful day it's been so far, and it's not even noon yet!
My daughter Nicole, and husband Tony surprised me this morning with wonderful cards and a new palm pilot! I have no idea how to use it yet, but I can't wait to figure it out.
Then I arrived at work to find a dozen beautiful yellow roses from my husband with a card that says "Happy Birthday sweetie! One of many more to come! Love your Hubby!"
He's a great guy!
I plan to savor this day -- enjoy every moment of every hour -- especially because tomorrow is my next chemo that I'm not looking forward to.
It's number three of four, though, so I only have one more to go after this one. I pray this one isn't as bad as the last two.
But I keep telling myself it's all worth it -- to make sure I will be around for many more birthdays.
My last chemo is scheduled for Feb. 1 so I'm thinking by the 5th or so I should be feeling better and never have to go through this stuff again. That's less than a month away.
I'm planning to put together a three-part series on my cancer battle after it's all over. Probably the second week in February.
The first part will be on my surgery and diagnosis, the second part on the chemotherapy, and the third part on losing my hair.
Here's where I'd like to have your input.
I plan to anchor the newscast bald the night my story airs on losing my hair. I want to do it in honor of all cancer patients -- past, present and future and to show that even without my hair -- I'm the same person.
What do you think? Am I crazy? Would it be a distraction for viewers, or a bold and important statement in support of cancer survivors?
Please e-mail and let me know your reaction. Would you watch? Would it bother you to see me bald?
Let me know. I'm really anxious to get feedback. Just send me an email.
Well, that's all for today. I just wanted to write a quick note and let everyone know how well I'm doing today and how thankful I am to be here to celebrate my 36th birthday!
God bless all of you and thanks for your support!
Leslie’s Diary: Monday Jan. 15
Three down and only one to go! YIPEE!
Surprisingly, this last chemo was the easiest yet. It's strange, you never know what to expect.
I thought after the first chemo treatment, I would know what to expect the next few times. I was wrong!
This time, I was prepared to be sick for days, and never really got sick. About two days after the treatment, I was very worn down, tired, but not horribly sick.
On Sunday, I slept alot. Today, I'm a bit tired, but back at work and doing great. I can only pray the last one will be as easy as this one!
My oncologist put me on seven days of nupogen to make sure my white cell count doesn't fall too low this time. I hate those darn shots, but it's a small price to pay!
Thanks to everyone for all the feedback on whether I should anchor bald. I've been overwhelmed by the positive response!
While feeling bad Sunday and sleeping -- my daughter walked up to the side of the bed, laid her head next to mine, and said "Are you okay mommy? You'll be better soon, the medicine will make you better, right?" Such big words from such a small child. But she's right. Here's a little inspiration from her. I hope you enjoy it!
A Glimpse of Heaven
"I caught a glimpse of heaven while feeling bad one day. It showed me spirit, love and life without a word to say.
I saw -- just for a moment -- the purity of love. I saw just how blessed I am from my father up above.
I caught a glimpse of heaven while curled up in my bed. No trumpets, horns or blaring song just a tiny voice that said: 'I love you. I love you. It'll be okay. Don't be scared - mommy - I am here today.'"
That little glimpse of heaven is my darling daughter Nicole. A reminder of why I fight to once again be whole.
So, on days when my body screams for this to end, I take another glimpse of heaven and gain strength to begin again.
Leslie’s Diary: Tuesday, Jan. 23
t's a wonderful week! A week when most of the bad effects of chemo have worn off, and my energy starts to come back! A week when I'm finally feeling like my old self again! Well, almost like my old self.
The strangest thing has happened -- I've gone loopy! My balance is out of whack and it's driving me crazy. If I stand up too fast, I lose my balance big time, and sometimes when I just turn my head, it feels like it takes a moment for my brain to catch up. I hate it!
I went to my oncologist today to get a blood count check, and a proquid shot to increase my red cells. She is as amazed as I am at all I have gone through.
I'm a "case study." My loopiness apparently isn't a common side effect of chemo. My first reaction: "Oh, my gosh, I have a brain tumor now. More chemo. NOOOOOOO!"
Of course, she quickly put my paranoia to rest. It isn't a brain tumor, she assured me. After looking in my ears, which were a little red, and at my throat, which was also a little red, she said that I'm likely coming down with something, and that is causing this motion madness.
A few prescriptions later, I was out of there. I hope the pills will cure whatever is causing this craziness.
Work is going great. I'm enjoying the noon and 6 p.m. shift. It's great to have mornings with Nicole. She's fun when she wakes up.
She's a little crabby (like her mommy) sometimes, but once she has her orange juice, she's precious. I also love getting her dressed in the morning. Fixing her hair, picking out her clothes -- it's so much fun.
I notice so many little things now, like the way she turns her head just a touch while I'm fixing it. How she holds her hand up to stop me in the middle of brushing her teeth when it's time to spit. That happens about six times during one session. How her morning hugs begin with her arms stretched as wide as possible, then she falls into my arms, wraps hers around me and slowly says, "Mommy!"
Life is good! Thank you, God!
Leslie’s Diary: Wednesday, Jan. 31
I can't believe it! Tomorrow is my last chemo treatment!
It's a day that I'm both dreading and looking forward to. I just pray that this one is as easy as the last one and not like the two before it.
I remember the apprehension going for the first treatment -- the feeling that the end would never come. Yet it has. It's here, and I survived it. OK -- not yet -- but almost!
I don't think my eyelashes will survive the next treatment.
They're pretty thin now -- a few stragglers are hanging on. I've started wearing fake eyelashes on the air. They look pretty good, but it's an art form learning how to put them on.
I'm paranoid that one will come halfway off during the news. I look at Steve Spriester about 20 times a night and ask, "How are my lashes?" He looks, and says "They're fine, fine, don't worry."
He jokingly said that "If one falls off, I'll give you code words during the news, like 'lashing out' or 'coming unglued.'" Everyone's a comedian. (So far, no code words during the show though!).
My eyebrows look like they'll make it. A few have fallen out, but they're not super-thin, so I don't think I'll lose them all. What does it matter anyway, right? It will all start growing back in about a month because MY LAST CHEMO IS TOMORROW!
Speaking of hair, I've decided to do it. I am going to anchor without my wig!
I have received hundreds of e-mails, and I'm grateful for each one. Thank you so much for all the feedback -- good and bad.
Most of it has been really positive and encouraging. A handful have discouraged me from doing it, mostly out of fear that I will leave people with that impression of me -- bald!
But that's one of the reasons why I'm doing it. I don't want people to fear what I look like bald or think I should hide it or be ashamed of it. So, like I said, I'm going to do it.
My series will air next Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Wednesday will be the story of my diagnosis and surgery, Thursday will be the story of my first chemo treatment and Friday will be the story on my hair loss.
Steve will start the show alone and anchor the hard news top stories. And then he'll introduce me.
I'll join him on the set for my story bald and anchor the rest of the show without my wig.
I decided that if I want to do it, I'd better do it soon, because my hair will start growing back in a few weeks. YIPPEE! I'm sure I'll catch some flak for it, but I think the importance of the message far outweighs any criticism that I will receive.
Wish me luck. The next time I write, I will be through with my chemo!
Leslie’s Diary: Wednesday, Feb. 7
Raise your glasses and offer up a toast -- I'm done -- I'm done -- I'm officially done!
NO MORE CHEMO! YEE-HA! YIPPEE! YEAH! Can you tell that I'm just a little excited?
Tomorrow marks the one-week point since my last chemo. And while the effects are still lingering, I'm feeling a little better every day.
This last one wasn't too bad! The chemo session itself seemed almost endless. I guess it was because I knew that it was the last one. I just wanted it to be over!
There was another woman at the clinic having chemo. She told me that she had breast cancer, and 18 months later it came back in her liver. Not exactly news that I wanted to hear.
She also shared terrible stories of friends she knew who had no positive lymph nodes, and theirs came back all over their body. She also said that a doctor told her that one of the problems is that they're now just giving four rounds of chemo when we really should be getting six.
As a person celebrating the fact that I was on my fourth and final poison, that was certainly news that I didn't want to hear.
I politely said that I usually sleep through my chemo and turned my head and closed my eyes. I will not let this person or anyone else ruin what I consider a graduation -- a celebration -- an accomplishment!
My cancer will not return. I will not believe otherwise!
I slept the entire day Thursday and most of the day Friday. Saturday I felt OK, just a little queasy (no throwing up, though) and achy. Sunday it hit a little hard.
Suddenly a wave of nausea (unusual three days after chemo) hit, and I had very achy bones. I slept most of that day too and was back at work Monday.
Monday I felt weak, but by Tuesday I was feeling much better. It's as if I can feel the chemo work its way through my body, draining my energy and sucking up my cells. Now my body is fighting to rebuild what the chemo has destroyed. But alas, it is the last time and I am tough!
My special series of reports on my bout with breast cancer begins Wednesday on KSAT 12 News at 6 p.m.
I'm a little anxious about Friday night's newscast. I'm comfortable with my decision to anchor without my wig, but I would be lying if I said that there weren't any butterflies fluttering around in my belly.
My big bald head on TV for the world to see. Really, the world, not just San Antonio.
We are going to broadcast the news live at 6 p.m. Friday over the internet. So anyone with a computer who wants to see me anchor bald can! No pressure there!
Then, after the news, I'm going to do a live chat on the internet from 6:30 to 7. I'm anxious to get your feedback. GULP! BIGGER GULP!
Oh, well, that's all for now. This is your hairless, nutty, cancer-kicking friend saying, "See you on the news!"
Leslie’s Diary: Monday, Feb. 12
Boy, oh boy, I had no idea what I was in for!
When I decided to anchor the news without my wig last Friday, I knew it would spark reaction, but never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be so enormous!
From the moment that I stepped off the set, the phones were ringing and dozens upon dozens of people jammed into a chat room to offer me congratulations!
The support has been tremendous! So far, not one mean or ill-willed remark. Just hundreds of well wishers and positive feedback.
I can't thank each of you enough for caring and taking the time to let me know that you appreciate the stand I have taken! THANK YOU!
Since my story aired, national news outlets have contacted me to do stories about my battle against cancer. 20/20 and Good Morning America both want to do stories about met. Inside Edition has inquired as well.
I have always been told that just one person can make a difference, but I never thought that I would be that one person. The opportunity to reach women around the nation just gives me warm fuzzies. I pray that it encourages women to do their breast self-exams, catch it early and be brave through the treatments. If I can do this, trust me, anyone can.
I feel fabulous! My body has worked through this last chemo, and I feel healthy and terrific. It's such a wonderful feeling to know that I don't have to do it again next week.
There were times when I didn't think I could do it. I was wrong. God gave me the strength to get through it and blessed me abundantly in the process.
The next step is radiation. I meet with my radiologist this week. It's just a "How ya doin'" session, and to find out what I'll be going through.
I guess I'll set up the appointments then. Every day, five days a week, for six weeks. Sounds like another inconvenience to me. But I'm not complaining. At least it isn't chemo!
I'm getting a little better at gluing on my eyelashes. Sometimes, though, my fingers get stuck to the lashes, and just when I think I have them in place, I remove my hands and there they are -- stuck to my fingers!
Oh, well, like the hair, they're growing back as I write. I wonder what my hair will look like when it grows back? Everyone tells me it grows back differently, curlier and a different color.
I don't even have sprouts yet, so I haven't a clue. Soon, though, very soon. I'll let you know.
God bless you all for all the support!
Leslie’s Diary: Thursday, March 1
WOW! I can't believe how much has happened to me in the last couple of weeks. I've been so busy that I haven't had time to write in my diary.
I'm still in shock over the national attention -- all because of my big, bald head. I've truly reached the pinnacle of success. I've made the tabloids. Yep, The Globe!
I would have never known it, but my aunt called to inform me that there was a full page story complete with pictures in the March 6 edition of The Globe. I think they got the info and pictures from the interview on "Primetime Thursday."
Speaking of "Primetime Thursday," Diane Sawyer is amazing! She was as kind and warm in person as she seems on television. She went out of her way on "Good Morning America" to make, not only me and my husband, but my daughter Nicole, feel welcome and comfortable.
Everyone there was wonderful! I feel so honored to have the chance to spread the importance of self-exams and hopefully ease the fears of baldness for women.
Now that the interviews are over, I have been getting requests to do speaking engagements across the country. I will do every one I possibly can. It's another blessing and honor in my life.
So many people have come up to me and said how my story has helped them in one way or another to deal with their own diagnosis. I had hoped it would benefit someone, somehow, but never imagined it could have such an impact. I'm so glad that I decided to share my story rather than hide it.
Back to my story. You may already know that chemo is over and now I have started radiation. Monday was my first day. It's no big deal. It only takes a couple of minutes, and doesn't hurt at all.
Of course it's only been a few days and I haven't received the cumulative effects of if yet. I've been told there's a chance I could have skin irritation and even burns on my breast. I've been treating it daily, several times a day with a wound cream, hoping to avoid the big burn. Someone suggested that I should use aloe instead. They said that it helped them so I'm going to try it!
I'm scheduled to have surgery next Friday to have my medi-port removed. I don't need it now that chemo is over. YEEHAW! There's one problem though. My white cell count still hasn't recovered from my last chemo. So, we have to wait and see if I can get it up there enough for surgery by next week.
I'm feeling a bit under the weather today. I feel like I'm coming down with something. I don't know if it's because of my white cell count, the radiation or just because I'm catching a bug. I guess it could be a little of all three. I hope it's not the radiation. I would hate to feel this bad for the next five weeks.
Oh yeah, by the way I got the job! It's official. I'm now the noon and 6 p.m. co-anchor for KSAT! I just signed a long-term contract, so I'm not going anywhere anytime soon. That's just fine by me. I love it here!
That's all for now - I'll let you know how the radiation affects me after a few more treatments.
Leslie’s Diary: Wednesday, March 21
Two weeks from today I'll be done -- finished -- through -- see ya -- with radiation! I can't believe it's been three and half weeks already but it has! So far, so good.
I haven't had any burning, but my breast is getting a little pink. I met one woman who had pretty bad burns when hers was over. It looked painful! I'm lobbing on the lotion several times a day hoping to avoid that but only time will tell.
The whole radiation process really is easy compared to chemo. It's inconvenient -- every day -- 5 days a week for 5 and a half weeks! But it's quick and so far painless!
I'm in and out of there in about 15 minutes usually and most of that time is just setting things up. The actual radiation only takes about a minute and a half. Thirty seconds on one side of the breast and about 1 1/2 minutes on the other.
It's amazing how precise the whole thing is. I lay down on a mold specially made for me. It contours the upper part of my body so my position is the same each time. Then the radiation techs (who are wonderful) line me up with the red lasers and it's zap zap zap.
I'm documenting the whole radiation experience too and will have a two-part series on it when it's over and when I return from vacation! Yep, I'm taking a week and half off after radiation. My family is going to Atlanta to visit relatives and most of all to relax! I can't wait!
Oh yeah, by the way, my hair is finally starting to grow back! Tomorrow marks 6 weeks since my last chemo and it's just starting to grow! The eyelashes and eyebrows are growing back super fast. The top lashes still aren't long enough to wear on the air -- even with mascara -- so the fake lash limbo continues! I still haven't mastered that move.
The hair on my head started off as a bunch of blonde (white blonde) fuzz! Just like a baby's! Then I got all these bumps on my head -- hundreds of little bumps all around! I thought maybe my follicles were clogged and the hair would never grow back! Now, little dark sprouts are coming out and the bumps are gone.
It's weird, black and blond (yes blond, not gray) mixed together! I have what I call a five o'clock shadow on my head! I'm still not even a chia pet, though!
Life is going great! I sure love being alive! My schedule has changed again (temporarily). Ursula Pari, our 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. anchor, is on bed rest pending the birth of her first child (a boy!) So, I'm filling in for her until she gets back
Right now I'm working 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift. It would be great to sleep in but I have to get up every day and drive across town for radiation at 9:45. Not for much longer though.
Other than radiation, hair growth, a change in schedule and a scheduled vacation there's not a thing to report!!
Until next time, LOL!
Leslie’s Diary: Thursday April 18
So much to say, so much to celebrate and so much to be thankful for!
I finished radiation two weeks ago and I never had any real problems from it.
The doctor told me that the worst of it may take a week or two to show up but I never blistered, peeled or really even burned.
The skin did get quite pink but it never hurt! I don't know if the lotion paid off or if I'm just real lucky!
Now that it's over I am battling a few negative demons, though. I have to work hard to shake them from my mind. I keep thinking I feel a new lump in the left breast or one in the right one! Paranoia at it's finest! Now that I know it's over I fear that it really isn't -- cancer is there somewhere, lurking, laughing and waiting to surface!
But I also know in my heart that it's all nonsense and the thoughts are just that -- thoughts and demons trying to drag me down. I'm healed and that's that!!!
The next step is Tamoxifen. I have an appointment with my oncologist Monday and we'll get me started then. I don't really know what to expect from it because I have heard so many different reactions to it.
My mother in law has had no problems at all on it, others have written and said it has been horrible! I'll just have to wait and see how it works on me!
On the hair front there's plenty to report. It's growing -- boy is it growing!
It took about six weeks after my last chemo treatment to see anything at all and bam -- in the last week -- it's sprouted up all over!! A thick full head of hair (all be it short).
I'm at the stage where people look at me and I can tell they're thinking "is she doing that on purpose?" I've even had a few people tell me how cute my haircut is. I laugh to myself when that happens , I smile and thank them.
The color is crazy! It's a mixture of blond, brown, black and yes, a little bit of grey too!
I've decided to take the wig off for good in a couple of weeks. My news director said that I can take it off now if I want to but I decided to wait until my series on radiation. That will give my hair a chance to grow a little more and coincide with the story on radiation.
I've been looking back at all the tapes we shot during the radiation and logging them for the stories. It's funny to see how my hair has grown over those 6 weeks. Everyone will see the difference in the stories.
I'll show my hair now and that will be it! The wig will gone forever! I have to tape the wig on now and it hurts to take it off because it sticks to my hair! My real hair will be quite a shock though and take some getting used to for viewers.
The color is much darker and of course much shorter, but I think everyone will get used to it quickly! I have!
My vacation started out fabulous but my grandmother died while I was there. It was unexpected but in many ways it was a blessing. I was already there along with my husband and my daughter and we got to say goodbye!
The doc called and said that her systems were shutting down and gave her only 72 hours at most. We rushed over to the home, said our goodbyes and within 4 hours she was dead.
She's in heaven now -- with my mother (her daughter)and her husband who died 11 years before her. I know that she's happy now and pain free.
The whole family went to the funeral, so it was a wonderful reunion but not the best circumstances for it.
Oh yeah, by the way, I received a call today from a producer at the Oprah Winfrey show. They're considering a show on vanity and may want me as a guest. They too heard about my decision to anchor bald and wanted to know more about it. I'll let you know what happens.
That's all for now I'll write again soon!
God bless :)
Leslie’s Diary: Monday May 21
Good news it was just a cyst!
I haven't written in a while because I was waiting on the pathology report from the biopsy before saying anything and the news is good!
My surgeon, Dr. Leist, awoke me with the good news -- it looked like a tiny cyst. She says it was so small -- smaller than a pea -- that they couldn't even do a frozen biopsy there and would have to send it off.
I just talked to her assistant and it's confirmed -- it's not malignant! In some ways I feel a little guilty for ever worrying about it but in other ways I'm glad it's out and I know for sure it isn't cancer!
I've been on Tamoxifen for a few weeks now and other than a lot of hot flashes, I don't notice any difference. I'm hoping those hot flashes either subside with time or my doc can give me something to help ease them. She mentioned an anti-depressant that helps but my family and friends laugh at that idea. "You on an anti-depressant?" they say, "We can only imagine your energy level then!" I'll talk to her about it next week when we meet.
This Thursday I have a follow up with my surgeon and there is a cat scan scheduled. Just a routine check to make sure everything looks okay. I'm thinking about having my ovaries removed next. I know I'm at increased risk for ovarian cancer now, and it's such a tough one to diagnose that I don't know if I want to play the waiting game. I don't need them anyway and if there's a chance I could have it I want them out! I'll worry about that in a few months though -- not quite yet.
Life has been so good! My daughter turns 3 next week and we've planned a big Barbie bash swim party! She is so excited! Every day she asks "Is my party today Mommy?"
I have to tell her "Not today honey, Saturday!" She just doesn't have a concept of time yet but it sure is cute watching her try to understand. She always asks "Is it tomorrow yet?"
My mother in law is coming in town Wednesday. It will be the first time she's visited us since we've moved back to San Antonio.
I've been frantically cleaning the house. Not that she's critical -- I just want to make sure everything is just right. She's a breast cancer survivor too. She went through a lumpectomy, chemo, radiation and is now on Tamoxifen.
Sounds familiar! It was helpful to have her to turn to with questions through my battle. She's a tough cookie too.
Starting Thursday, I'll be gone for about a week. I plan to return rested. Have a great Memorial Day weekend!
Leslie’s Diary: Tuesday July 3
It's almost the Fourth Of July -- Independence Day.
I will make this a special celebration -- my own independence -- freedom from cancer!
I'm honored to be the grand marshal for the Schertz Fourth of July parade.
I had my CAT scan on schedule and everything looked great. All my blood work has come back perfect and the tumor markers are all within normal range.
My hair is growing back like crazy too! I've already had my first haircut and I must confess, I added a couple of subtle hilights as well. I have my second haircut set for this Saturday. There was a time I didn't think it would ever come back but once it starts growing it really grows fast!
I love it short which is a big surprise. I never would have cut it so short but I guess having no hair has given me a new perspective (any hair day is a good hair day!).
My daughter's birthday party was a big hit. She had a blast and she's such a big girl now. She's learned how to swim (she's a fish) and is in gymnastics. I love to watch life through her eyes!
I'm still taking Tamoxifen but the hot flashes have gotten much better. I did get efexir but never took it. It's an anti-depressant that helps the flashes but I decided to give it time. I'm glad I did because they seem to have diminished on their own. I still get a couple a day but they aren't bad and I don't get the night sweats any more.
I'm honored to be getting an award from the Congressional Families Action for Cancer Awareness. My family flies to D.C. in September to receive the media award. We've never been there so we're making it a vacation. I can't wait. Another blessing, another reason to thank God for being alive!
I'll write again soon. Thanks to all of you who have kept up with my story and offered me so much encouragement and support. You're the best!
Leslie’s Diary: Thursday, Aug. 16
Hi there! I know, I know, it's been awhile but have I been busy. Busy enjoying my family and friends. Busy working. Busy just being alive and healthy!
I can't believe but I'm quickly approaching the one-year mark since my diagnosis. October 13, 2000 was the day I found out about the cancer. Today, I made my mammogram and sonogram appointment. It is so hard to believe it has been a year! So much has happened. Time has never slipped by so quickly!
My hair is another miracle. I just can't get over how fast it's growing! I had my SECOND haircut and I even added hilights! It was quite a moment when we realized my hair was long enough to put foil in it. My hair is now short and sassy and full of blonde streaks. I love it! I never would have cut my hair but I actually like it and will probably keep it this way.
My daughter is about to start pre-school. I just can't believe how big she's getting. It's only two days a week and only part time on those days but it's still a big step for my little girl. She's so excited! We just bought her a Barbie lunchbox and she's already practicing her walk to the classroom. My 3-year old is growing up.
Life has pretty much returned to normal. I do have those doctor's appointments but they're getting further and further apart. I have to admit, though, that I still think about the cancer. I have to shake the fears of recurrence and remember my life is in God's hands and he has a firm grip on me. But the thought of having to undergo chemotherapy again sends shivers down my spine!
So far everything is going well with the drug Tamoxifen. The night sweats and hot flashes have eased up tremendously. My ovaries have kicked back in too! It took seven months, but I guess my body is bouncing back!
I'm working out and lifting weights four times a week at the gym, swimming and skiing on weekends and loving every moment I'm alive!
Thank you so much for all your calls and prayers and for caring. I have a ton of speaking engagements coming up in the next couple of months, so I'll write again when all that's over with. I'll also let you know how the checkup goes.
Until then, God bless!!!
After a three day weekend I'm back at work -- again!
Leslie’s Diary: Thursday, Nov. 30
Today's the day! My first chemo treatment. I slept surprisingly well Wednesday night, awoke a little anxious.
It was strange getting my 2-year-old daughter Nicole up and dressed -- taking her to the sitter - knowing that this is a life-changing day for me. Her little eyes as sparkly as ever, her voice cheerful and outlook positive. She makes me realize how much life is worth living -- and how chemo is worth enduring.
By 8:15 my husband Tony and I arrived at the clinic. We got the whole run through -- what was being pumped into my body; anti-anxiety medication (much needed!) -- anti-nausea medication (much wanted) and the poison! Adriamyacin and Cytoxan.
When the fluids flowed into my veins -- I began to cry. I couldn't help it -- I couldn't stop it. Not a tear rolling down my cheek, but an overflow of emotion -- the realization there is no turning back. My husband held my hand -- and tried to reassure me. He was my rock!
Soon after, the anti-anxiety medication kicked in and I fell asleep. It wasn't painful -- just emotional.
I left feeling a little groggy with a ton of take home medication to battle nausea. Unfortunately they didn't work. I spent the whole day in the bathroom - throwing up! It was miserable! I took more medication to help me sleep - and I did!
It's now Friday morning, and I'm back at work! The nausea has subsided - and I feel fine. I'm a little tired - but otherwise fine!
We'll see how I feel tomorrow!
Leslie’s Diary: Tuesday, Dec. 5
I thought I had kicked the worst of this thing after surviving last Thursday -- I was wrong!
Saturday morning the other shoe fell .. and hammer... and anvil. EVERYTHING seemed to fall at once! It felt as if every nerve in my body was on fire -- my muscles ached -- and the nausea -- oh the nausea -- it was overwhelming!
The only thing that made me feel better was a very strong anti-nausea drug that knocked me out -- for hours! I slept the entire day -- and night - and woke up Sunday feeling a little better. Not much -- but a little better!
Sunday is when I realized something else had changed -- my tastebuds! Nothing seems to taste the same. Everything has a metal or plastic taste and isn't worth eating. The only thing I seem to like is toast and chicken noodle soup.
Nothing tastes good, and everything seems to smell bad! My poor husband opened the refrigerator door to have me yell "clean that thing out would ya?". Of course, the fridge was fine, it's my nose that's messed up!
My 2-year-old daughter repeatedly came up to my bed "are you all better now, Mommy?" Oh how I wished I could say yes, scoop her up and hug her. But I didn't have the energy to even pretend, "No honey," I said. "Mommy is still sick."
Then, she then kissed me on the cheek and said "I'm a doctor, now you're all better."
As bad as I felt for myself, and my daughter, my husband Tony really deserves credit. He took care of me, Nicole and the house -- and he never complained. He is an amazing man!
Monday I finally started feeling like a person again. Now, on Tuesday, I'm again back at work. The metal taste is still in my mouth, food isn't very appealing, but I feel like I can make it. At least until December 21st -- my second chemo!
Leslie’s Diary: Monday, Dec. 11
Life is wonderful - again!! Going on week No. 2 since chemo and no more nausea. My taste buds are coming back, and other than being a bit tired, I feel like my old self again!
I had a follow up at the oncologist's office Thursday, Dec. 7. They drew blood to check my cell counts. They told me I hadn't reached "nadir" yet, but would within the next week. "Nadir?" I asked. "What the heck is that?"
Apparently "nadir" is when my blood cell count reaches its lowest point, and when I should start feeling extremely tired. I have felt a little tired, but so far it's nothing that a nap can't take care of.
As my cell count falls, I'm left without much of an immune system to fight off infections. So, the doc has put me on antibiotics as a precaution. Tomorrow, Tuesday, Dec. 12, I start going in for a once-a-week "booster" shot. I call it that because it's supposed to boost my energy and keep me from getting too weary.
Every morning I give my hair a quick tug - expecting a chunk of it to come out in my hand. But so far, it's still there tightly attached.
I'd like to think that means I will escape the hair snatcher - but I know it's only time until I lose these lovely locks. Not to worry. My store bought strands are already on standby.
I'll keep you posted.
Leslie’s Diary: Thursday, Dec. 14
Two weeks to the day after my first chemo treatment, and my hair is falling out!
My alarm went off as usual this morning at the awful hour of 3 a.m., and I didn't see a chunk of hair on my pillow and didn't have a tingly feeling on my head. I didn't notice anything unusual. That is until I got into the shower.
I lathered up with shampoo, and as I started rinsing, handfuls of hair washed away with the soap. At first, I was in disbelief. I started running my hands through my hair and sure enough dozens of strands stuck between my fingers.
I just stood there, water running, looking at it and pulling more of it out. You'd think I would stop pulling it and try to save what's left, but I didn't.
I knew this day was coming, but I certainly wasn't prepared for it. I don't think there's any way to prepare for it. Now, I'm going to look sick. Everybody will know I'm a baldy and I have cancer.
Well, if I'm going to be bald, I've decided to do it on my terms. I refuse to watch every strand fall out -- patches of baldness, thinning hair and a desperate attempt to keep it as long as possible. NO WAY!
Tonight, I'm having a hair shaving party at my house. Family and my closest friends will be there, along with a KSAT 12 photographer so I can share it with you later. We will each take a turn shaving my head and will each keep a lock for memories.
Then, tomorrow it's back to Hagood's for the final wig fitting. Then on to Becky's for the final cut and shape.
Monday morning, I'll have store-bought hair. But I will know -- and so will you -- that I'm really bald as a newborn baby.
Can I handle this emotionally? Probably not, but I'm going to give it one heck of a try. I'll write more Monday and let you know how it all "shakes out."
Wish me luck!
Leslie’s Diary: Monday, Dec. 18
Tomorrow (Dec. 21) is my next scheduled chemotherapy. I was supposed to have the poison poured through my veins at 9 o'clock Thursday morning. And as much as I was dreading it -- at least it would mark the halfway point. Now, I may not even have it tomorrow.
I just got a call from my oncologist saying my white cell count is too low for the treatment. So, I go in tomorrow morning for another blood test. If it comes back okay, I'll get my treatment tomorrow afternoon. If it doesn't, we'll have to put it off for at least one day.
One day doesn't sound so bad -- right? To me it's terrible! Christmas is Monday and if I don't have the treatment on schedule tomorrow I'm afraid I will be sick Christmas day. This is such an important Christmas to my family. My daughter Nicole understands for the first time that it is Jesus' birthday and that Santa is coming. She has been so looking forward to it. I don't want to spend the day sick!
I know, I know, my health is most important and I can't have chemo if my body can't handle it! But that doesn't mean I have to like it! Right?!
All I can do now is pray for healing and that all goes well. My doctor is going to try a bunch of new anti-nausea drugs, so maybe I won't even get sick this time!
No matter what happens, I am grateful to be alive and to have a wonderful family to share Christmas with -- even if I am bald and sick!
I also want to say thank you. Thank you for showing me so much love and concern and I wish every one of you the best this holiday season! Merry Christmas!
Leslie’s Diary: Wednesday, Dec. 27
Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to die a slow and painful death? I think I now know what that feels like.
I did get my chemo on schedule last Thursday (Dec. 21). My white cell count was still a little low, but my doctor decided I could get it -- if I took a shot for five days after the chemo to boost my white cell count.
I agreed and the poison again was pumped into my veins. My doctor was determined that I would not be nauseated this time and gave me lots of anti-nausea medication. They worked! No nausea. But I think I would have rather the nausea over the pain I was about to experience.
Thursday wasn't bad. I slept all day and all night. On Friday I felt a little weak, but the medication was working -- no nausea. By Friday afternoon, though, I started feeling achy all over. By Saturday morning death was at my door.
I hurt from the core of my being. The pain was too intense to describe. It was as if someone had their hand inside my body -- crushing my cells between two fingers -- one by one. It hurt from my bones to the little hairs on my arm -- everything was in pain. My head felt as if it was going to explode. A throbbing, constant pain. I couldn't talk, I could barely walk.
My husband kept a cell phone next to him on the couch downstairs -- and I would call him when I needed something. He would bring me something to drink, with a straw in it, so it would be easier going down. It was a great effort just to swallow. He made me soup, simmered slowly and the chicken taken out (just how I like it). But I could get little more than two bites down. I truly felt death would be better than the pain I was experiencing. When would it end? Would it end? All I could think was, "I can't do this two more times -- I just can't!"
I think the reason it was so bad is because I ended up catching the flu the day after chemo. The nurse also told me the shots I was taking to boost my white cell count makes my bones ache. So it was a triple doozy!
I started feeling better Sunday. Not great, but better. I no longer felt like life was over -- more like it was about to begin! My husband Tony and my daughter Nicole also caught the flu, so Christmas was interesting, to say the least.
We spent most of it in bed, sleeping, but I did make it to a friend's house for a little holiday cheer and food. Not that I had much food -- because it all tastes pretty awful!
Despite the setbacks, we did have each other! Today, I'm still sick but hopefully on the road to recovery. This will be a Christmas to remember! I remind myself of what Christ endured for me -- and look around at the blessings he has given me and realize I have little to complain about!
Despite the bad, there is much good in my life, and I’m trying to stay focused on that!
More entries from 2006-2008
Leslie’s Diary: June 20, 2006
Okay okay - I know - it's been a long time since my last update. I've heard the feedback and now I'm finally keeping my promise and updating my diary. Life has been busy and hectic over the last couple of years. There have been many changes in my life but nothing to complain about.
So far there's been no sign of a recurrence of breast cancer, shew! I am so grateful to everyone out there who has kept me and my family in their prayers. It helps, I feel them - and I'm appreciative! I am still taking Femara - and will be for another few years. My oncologist, Dr. Lisa Fichtel, switched me from Tamoxifen to Femara because it seems to work better in post menopausal women. I still have those terrible hot flashes which started in force when I had my ovaries removed in 2002. They aren't quite as often - maybe twice an hour instead of 10 times an hour! I've adjusted and just learned to live with them, dress in layers and keep lots of fans around the house and office.
My husband retired from the Air Force and has been a stay-at-home dad for a couple of years now, and he loves it. It has been wonderful for our daughter Nicole and for our family! Nicole is eight now going into the third grade. She's such a blessing. She is becoming her own little person - and I couldn't be more proud of her. She has a sweet and gentle spirit about her, and gives me and Tony so much joy. I have lost a few friends to this horrible disease of cancer - and it just makes me so mad - and so grateful to be here to enjoy my daughter's life. Life is so short and so precious - we must always remind ourselves that it isn't for ever - and each day could be our last. Love life - live life - and celebrate the time we have!
I am very proud that KSAT has joined forces with the CTRC for the Bosom Buddies program. If you haven't signed up - please do so! We need to educate and encourage women to do their self exams. The earlier the cancer is caught the better the chance of beating it! Just go to the Bosom Buddy icon in the healthbeat section of our Web site and you can register - it's free!
I'm happy to tell you that I signed another contract with KSAT - a long term one! I love this city - this station - and all the people who have become such an integral part of my life. I'm grateful to KSAT for all their support and kindness throughout the years - and very grateful to our viewers who stick with us!
It's amazing how quickly time goes by. Between work, family, and community events - I seem to always be on the go. I still have 21 frozen embryos that I must soon make a decision about. I have a couple of friends who have offered to be a surrogate mom so I don't have to shoot myself up with estrogen to carry a child. Estrogen - as you know - feeds the breast cancer I had. It's such a big decision - we are taking our time and praying hard about what God wants us to do. Nicole wants a sister or brother - and we would like to have another child. However - we know how blessed we are now - and are happy with what God has already given us.
Well - I have to sign off again - but I'll let you know what happens next!! Thanks again for caring and watching KSAT!!!
Leslie’s Diary: Jan. 10, 2007
Today is my 42nd birthday! Happy birthday to me!! I welcome the day with a few more wrinkles but an appreciation that I'm here at all. I realize - because of the industry I have chosen as a news anchor and reporter - that my looks are somewhat tied to my job. But I don't dread these birthdays, I celebrate them - because every fine line that deepens, every grey hair that Becky has to cover and every little brown spot that pops up on my face - mean I'm here, I'm alive and I'm still cancer free.
It's been nearly seven years since I was diagnosed with infiltrated ductal carcinoma. That's a fancy way of saying I had aggressive breast cancer. At the time of diagnosis, I chose to undergo a lumpectomy with radiation and chemotherapy. People to this day ask how I garnered the strength to go public with my battle. To allow cameras to capture all of it - from surgery to radiation, chemo to hair loss, even anchoring one newscast bald. I look back to that time in my life - a very scary and difficult time - and thank God for using me in such a great way. It was an easy decision, because I knew I could offer comfort, hope and a realistic expectation of what was to come for all my bosom buddies.
But now - at this point in my life - it's time to face another difficult decision. Before I tell you what it is - and why I've made the decision I have - I need to talk a little about the other cancer treatment I have undergone. My cancer was estrogen positive. That means those little buggers actually fed off of the estrogen in my body. It was their nourishment. The cancer cells need estrogen to grow and divide. So, my oncologist Dr. Lisa Fichtel placed me on Tamoxifen, to stop estrogen from feeding any rogue cancer cells that could be floating around my body. It works as a blocker, preventing the estrogen from reaching the cancer cell - starving it in a way. I also had my ovaries removed because I knew I was at greater risk for ovarian cancer and removing them would further reduce the estrogen in my body. (Before the surgery, though, I went through fertility treatments and froze 21 embryos… thanks, Dr. Neal)! Two years after I started taking Tamoxifen, researchers discovered that Femara was even more effective in preventing a recurrence in postmenopausal women. Femara is the brand name for a drug that actually stops the production of estrogen in the body. Studies found women who took it had fewer recurrences than those who took Tamoxifen. My oncologist Dr. Fichtel immediately switched me to Femara - and I am taking it to this day. I've been on Femara for nearly four years. But here's the bad news: it can only be taken for five years. That means one more year - and then no more Femara!
Which leads me to my difficult decision. After months of praying, researching, and talking to different doctors, I have decided to have a prophylactic mastectomy. I am 42 years young - with half of my life still ahead of me (God willing). That means 40 years for the cancer that ravaged my healthy tissue once do the same thing again. Whatever went awry when I was 35 could very well go awry when I'm 45, 50, 60 or older. Rather than wait and see what happens once I stop the Femara, I have decided to reduce the risk dramatically, by removing the tissue those cancer cells so love to destroy. I realize it doesn't eliminate all chances of cancer coming back or developing, but it does make those chances very minimal.
Once I made the decision to have the procedure, then came the most difficult part of all: choosing the right doctor, and the best procedure, for me. I had heard about the TRAM flap procedure, and met many women who had undergone it. I heard you got a free "tummy tuck" because doctors use the tissue from your tummy to build your new breasts. That part sounded great! But, as I began to research it, I also learned about the negative parts of the procedure. Abdominal muscles - your "sit up" muscles - are removed along with the tissue. That leaves some people with a weakened core, making many tasks more difficult. Some women also develop bulges and hernias in the belly where the muscle is removed. I love to work out - and I'm very active - so that part sounded just terrible to me. That's when I heard about another procedure called the DIEP flap. That stands for Deep Inferior Epigastric Perforator. In this procedure very little - if any - muscle is removed. The perforating vessels, along with the overlying flesh, are removed - but the muscle is left in place. The recovery time is quicker, but the surgery is much more involved, and it takes a microsurgery expert to perform it.
Because it is relatively new, only a few doctors in the country specialize in the DIEP Flap procedure. We happen to have a couple of them right here in San Antonio. Dr. Peter Ledoux will be my surgeon - the man I am trusting to rebuild my body once Dr. Rosenthal removes my breast on March 5th. I have decided to have what's called a "skin-saving mastectomy" where only the areola and nipple are removed; the breast tissue is scooped out, but the skin is left intact. Dr. Ledoux will immediately go to work, removing tissue from parts of my abdomen, and then "refill" the area. He will then micro-surgically attach blood vessels removed from my stomach, to my chest wall. I will have living soft tissue - that looks and feels like real breasts. I will wake up with breasts - but must wait three months to have the nipple created and tattooed. If you go to Dr. Ledoux's website, you can see before and after photos - and see what amazing work they do.
The doctor and his nurses have given me a handout explaining the procedure, the recovery and what I can expect. I have searched the internet for personal accounts of the surgery and recovery, but I've been unable to find anything that really spells it out in detail.
When I made the decision to go public with my battle with breast cancer, I did it because I felt there was a purpose - that it could actually benefit women who are experiencing the same thing. This time I had to ask myself that question again. "What would be the benefit of sharing this experience with viewers?" I really don't see a benefit to video taping the procedure and recovery; a 2 minute story on my personal account wouldn't offer any information I couldn't give you from another person's story. That's why I've decided to do a news story on the procedure - using someone who has already gone through it. But I do think there is a need for information about the entire experience - from start to finish. So I'm going to keep a diary - from before surgery, until the healing process is complete. It will be there for women - like me - who need to make a decision about their own treatment and surgery. It will be there to give a first-hand account of exactly what to expect.
Now, with that said, "I" don't even really know what to expect - we will find out together! I will have to miss a few weeks of work, but will record on audiotape - or paper - what is happening every day. I will post my progress on my diary.
To all of you who have supported me, prayed for me, and encouraged me, I say thank you, thank you, thank you. Please keep me close in your prayers as I embark on another chapter of my battle - this time to prevent breast cancer!!!
Leslie’s Diary: Feb. 26, 2007
It's 2:31 on Monday February 26. It's exactly one week before my surgery. So many emotions are running through me right now. My surgery is scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m. next Monday. As I look at the clock, I wonder what will be happening to me at this exact moment one week from now? Will I be out of surgery? Will everything have gone as smoothly as I pray it will?
I had my pre-op visit last Wednesday. If I wasn't already a bit nervous, I'm scared to death right now. They explained everything that can go wrong. The risks of anesthesia, the risks of a blood clot, the risks of the flap not taking, the risks of the perforating vessels not being viable, not having enough tissue, and on and on and on. Then - of course - there's the whole "once surgery is over" scare. The drains, the garments, the pain pumps!! AAAARRRRR!!! It's overwhelming! I know in my mind that everything that they tell me "could" happen - are just as a precaution. None of those things have happened to their patients - yet! I certainly hope I'm not the first!
My plan is to have a double mastectomy and immediate reconstruction. I didn't have enough tissue for both when we first met, so I've been trying to gain weight. I never thought I would "want" to gain weight - this is a first! I have gained a few pounds over the last couple of months, and we are going for the double! Dr. Ledoux explained that there is always that possibility once they get in there the vessels won't be viable. It's a very slim chance, but a chance none-the-less. Surgery and trauma in the past to the abdomen can affect those vessels. So I asked "what happens if they aren't viable?" He answered, "We abort the mission". "Abort the mission," I asked, frightened and puzzled. "What does that mean"? He told me "that means, we close you back up and have to find another way - another day". We decided he would make sure the vessels are viable before Dr. Rosenthal removes my breast tissue - just in case. That makes me feel a little better, but then what? I guess I will worry about that "if" it happens. I refuse to focus on the "what ifs" and instead I am determined to keep a positive attitude and pray for a successful surgery and speedy recovery.
I cannot tell you how thankful I am to the dozens of people who have contacted me to share their own experiences with Dr. Ledoux and the DIEP procedure. It has offered me so much comfort during this time. And to all of you who have written to tell me I will be in your prayers - thank you thank you thank you!!! I feel your prayers and your encouragement! It really helps!
In preparation for the surgery, I've had to give up my two daily cups of coffee, and my red wine. Other than the caffeine withdrawal headache - it's not so bad. Apparently, caffeine and alcohol affect the vessels, and I certainly don't want to mess with those. I will do whatever is necessary to keep these vessels healthy for surgery. I also had to stop taking my daily doses of Femara and multi-vitamin. Tylenol is all I can take - but I haven't needed that yet either.
As I approach the day of surgery, I am anxious, a bit scared, but also hopeful! I will update my diary as soon as I am able to, and let you know what it was like - and what it "is" like as I go through recovery! Check back often, and your prayers and feedback are much appreciated!!
Until after surgery, Leslie.
Leslie’s Diary: March 21, 2007
t's been just over two weeks since I underwent a double mastectomy and immediate DIEP flap reconstruction. I have kept a voice record daily of the recovery to offer a true portrayal of what it's like. I am a little apprehensive to share it though, because I don't want to scare anyone away from the procedure. The truth is, it's the hardest thing I've ever done, and very, very painful. It's worst than childbirth! That said, it is also the best decision I have ever made about my health, and my life! There were many times during my recovery, I wondered, "is this normal?" and wished I had a booklet or diary to look through to find out.
I hope my experience can offer that to other women embarking on this incredible journey to remove potential cancer tissue and replace it with their stomach. Read on if you wish, but remember all the pain has been absolutely worth it, and once you make it past the first 10 to 14 days, it's smooth sailing. I am breaking the diary down into daily entries. As I listen to the voice recorder - I'll type a new entry. It won't all happen in one day, so be patient and stay tuned!
5 a.m. March 5 - Day of surgery:
The alarm went off bright and early, and I had no trouble jumping right out of bed. I needed to be at the hospital at 6:30 a.m. for an 8:30 a.m. surgery. I knew it would be a while before I could take a long, hot shower again, so I wanted to take advantage of this morning. I purchased, per doctor's orders, Dial anti-bacterial hand soap (the orange pump bottle) - and scrubbed my body clean. I also washed my hair, shaved and looked at my body that would be so different tomorrow. I had that little tingle in the center of my belly, that nervous twitch of uncertainty. "What will I look like tomorrow?" I wondered. "What will I feel like tonight?" After the shower, I blow-dried my hair, but no lotion or deodorant or perfume (also per doctor's orders). I checked my suitcase. I don't know what I was thinking! I packed as if I was going on a relaxing vacation. I packed four sets of jammies, fresh underwear, socks, a robe, slippers, toothbrush and toothpaste, hairbrush, blow dryer, shampoo and cream rinse, facial creams and a little makeup. Here's lesson number one - you won't need much in the hospital - you will live in the gown they give you! All I used was the toothbrush and toothpaste and slippers and a robe for walking the halls. I wore home the same jammies I wore to the hospital and wasn't allowed to shower until the day I went home - and they have shampoo there!
When we arrived at Methodist Hospital in the Medical Center, check-in was a breeze. I had pre-registered and didn't wait long before they took me to my holding room. A nurse gave me a gown and started taking all my vital signs. The gown had all big air holes in it, attached to a big blower. They could pump cold or warm air into my gown depending on how I felt. The nurse also put these very fashionable white stockings on my legs. They went all the way up my thighs. They were compression garments. On top of those, was another contraption that would fill up with air and squeeze my legs every few seconds. She explained that I would be wearing that the entire time I was in the hospital - just to help with blood flow and ensure no blood clots. Then came the attempt to start an IV. The woman tried several times, in several locations, but couldn't get an IV started. I had bruises and pain, but no IV. She finally gave up and said they would have to do it in the next holding room before surgery.
I was wheeled into the pre-op room - which was packed with people. Who knew so many surgeries would be scheduled for first thing Monday morning? There, I met my surgical support team. The nurse had no trouble starting my IV (thank goodness) - and my anesthesiologist explained exactly what would happen to make sure I didn't feel a thing. She explained that this day is lost to me. The surgery would take all day, and I would sleep through it all. That's fine by me - I thought. I told her I have a very sensitive stomach, and was afraid the anesthesia would make me sick. She put a little patch behind my left ear to help with nausea, and assured me I would have a constant drip of two different anti-nausea medications during surgery. The last thing I wanted to do was wake up and throw up, after my stomach had just been sliced open from one side to the other! A few minutes later, Dr. Rosenthal, the doctor who would remove my breasts, came into the room to check on me. He is a wonderful man and great doctor. He's tall, over 6 feet I would say, thin, has blond hair and blue eyes. He was calming and reassuring, and told me he would remove both breasts if and only if, my plastic surgery team determined I had enough tissue to rebuild both breasts. On my chart, it said, "left mastectomy with possible right mastectomy". It all was dependent on what they found when they opened up my belly. Shortly after Dr. Rosenthal left, my plastic surgeon, Dr. Ledoux, came into the room. Dr. Ledoux is adorable. I call him my own Dr. McDreamy. He looks like him. He is thin, about 5'8 tall and has dark hair and blazing blue eyes. It's hard to imagine these doctors cutting me open, removing some parts of my body, and actually moving other parts around. "I'll be out cold," I kept telling myself, "I won't even know what's happening". Dr. Ledoux was upbeat and smiling. He joined hands with my husband, Tony, and me, and led us in prayer before surgery. I could feel the Lord's presence in the room and a sense of calm came over me. Dr. Ledoux said goodbye, he was going to "scrub in" and the anesthesiologist gave me a "margarita cocktail", which is really an IV drug to make me relax. It worked. And that's the last thing I remember before surgery.
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Leslie’s Diary: March 29, 2007
March 5th, 8:30 p.m.
I heard noises, voices, a lot of activity. I felt like I was in a secluded place far away from what was happening. I could hear everything, but couldn't see anything.
I tried to open my eyes, to see what was happening, but as much as my brain wanted to, my eyes just wouldn't open. The compression garments on my legs squeezed tightly as they filled with air, the blood pressure cuff on my right arm squeezed as well.
I heard the "beep, beep, beep" of a monitor and, in the distance, a tiny voice.
"When is Mommy going to wake up, Daddy?" my 8 year old daughter, Nicole, said. My mind screamed, "I'm awake, baby, and I'm fine!" Again, my mouth wouldn't cooperate. I felt Nicole's tiny hand on my foot, and heard my husband Tony reassuring her. "It takes time for all the medication to wear off, honey, she'll wake up soon." Tony stood by my side, rubbing my hand. I could see them both clearly in my mind. Nicole, with her long dirty blonde hair, pulled back in a ponytail, with just a wisp of it hanging down across her face. Her sparkling, brilliant blue eyes that she obviously got from her father. Tony, with his salt and pepper hair, and those few crows' feet around his eyes made prominent by his gentle and caring smile. "Are you sure we should be here? We should leave, Tony, and let you and Nicole be alone with Leslie when she wakes up."
I would know that voice anywhere. It was coming from the foot of the bed. It was my dear friend Julie Andreolli, talking in that Luling, Texas, twang accent I love so much. She and her husband Art had apparently been at the hospital for hours, supporting Tony and Nicole as they waited for my surgery to end.
"I can do this," I thought, "I can talk". I struggled and concentrated on opening my eyes. My lids felt so heavy, like they were taped shut. "I can do this, I can do this," I kept telling myself. Finally, after what felt like an hour (but was more like a minute) my eyes slowly opened. A sliver of light turned into a fog. As my eyes adjusted, the room came into focus. I looked at Art and Julie, and I smiled. "Hi, baby girl," Julie said in that nurturing, motherly voice. Art stood next to her with his arms folded high on his chest. He smiled at me. I tried to smile back, then turned my head towards Nicole. My mouth was so dry I couldn't speak. Again, I struggled to utter words. "Ice chips," I slowly and softly said. Nicole walked to the side of my bed, and grabbed a cup. "Here you go, Mommy!" she said, cheerfully, as she spoon-fed me the ice chips. I smiled. My mouth was like a dry sponge, and those ice chips tasted so wonderful. "Are you OK?"
It was déjà vu. I remember Nicole asking me that very same question 6 years ago when I woke up from my lumpectomy. She was only 2 at the time, but even now I can hear that little girl voice, the worry, the pure love of a frightened child. "I'm fine," I struggled to say. It was difficult to get words out. As my awareness improved, I looked around me. I felt paralyzed. Tubes, wires, and garments covered my body. The bed was elevated, pillows were all around me - under each arm, behind my head, beneath my legs. "MMMMMMMM," the compression garment hummed as it filled with air, squeezing my legs. I felt so claustrophobic. I couldn't move my arms or legs; I could only turn my head from side to side.
"How big are my boobs?" I asked in a raspy, broken voice. Tony laughed, "I can't see them yet, honey, they're all wrapped up." "But, did they take both of them?" I hoped they did. Going into surgery, it all depended on whether I had enough tissue in my abdomen. I knew the left one was going, but I wasn't sure about the right one. "They sure did," Tony said, as he held my right hand. "The doctors said everything went perfectly."
I tried to move my hands towards my breasts to feel them, but that was a futile effort. I could barely lift my arm, much less move my hands to my breasts. I could feel the support bra tightly covering both breasts, and saw tubes coming out from under my arms. At the end of the tubes were bubbles filled with red liquid. The dreaded drains. I looked down and saw the girdle covering my entire stomach, and another tube with another bubble coming out of my abdomen. Nurses were hovering around me, checking vitals, emptying drains, making sure I was okay. "Here's your morphine pain pump button. If you hurt, press it, and don't worry, you can't overmedicate yourself," a nurse said. "It's a good thing I can move my thumb," I thought as I pushed the button.
I started mumbling and rambling and, according to Julie and Tony, I had quite the stories to share with the nurses. "Tony gave my boobs a public farewell Saturday night at Howl at the Moon," I apparently said in a doped-up voice. The nurses smiled, "Really?" I talked in short, broken words. "He paid to have a phrase displayed on a B-I-I-I-G board on stage. It said, 'TA-TA TO THE TA-TA'S, THANKS FOR ALL THE MAMMORIES'!" Laughter broke out in the room. I don't really remember saying that, but I do remember it happening. It was my best friend Ginger's "Hello to 40" party - and my "Goodbye to the boobs" night. My last hurrah before surgery.
"How big are my boobs?" I asked again. "We'll know soon enough. Don't worry about it, just know you have some," Tony assured me. I tried to laugh, and that's when I realized just how much pain I was actually in. A sharp, shooting pain raced through my chest. I tried to take a deep breath, but the pain intensified. "It hurts to breathe," I said. "It hurts so bad". The nurse walked to my side and handed me what looked like a plastic measuring cup with a hose sticking out of it. "It's very important that you use this." The breathing exerciser had numbers on it ranging from zero all the way to 4000, with a blue ball at the bottom. I had to suck in as hard as I could, and each time the blue ball would go up. They told me to use it at least 10 times an hour, and try to get the blue ball to the 1000 mark. The first time I tried, I couldn't even get the ball to 100.
"I can't breathe, I can't do it!" I could hear the panic in my voice. The nurse assured me, "Just keep trying, it will get easier." I was under anesthesia for 8½ hours, and needed to rebuild my lungs to prevent pneumonia. "SSSSSSS." I tried to suck in air, only for a second, and was overcome with pain and a need to cough. "Help, help! It hurts, I don't want to cough. My stomach, my stomach." The nurse handed me ANOTHER pillow. "It's good for your lungs to cough, just push this pillow tightly down on your stomach when you need to cough." I had no energy, I could barely move, much less put pressure on a pillow, but I tried. I let out a very soft cough, but even that hurt like hell. I pushed the pain pump.
"We're going now, baby girl. Rest and take care of yourself. I told you I would be here when you got out of surgery, I had to make sure you were okay," Julie said. She reached over and kissed me on the forehead. "We'll see you soon," Art said as he kissed me too. "Bye, love you" I said, softly, as they left the room.
It was after 9 p.m. by this time, and Nicole had school the next morning. "I'm going to get her home and in bed now, honey, but I'll be back first thing in the morning," Tony said. He reached down and gently kissed me on the lips. "I love you very much. Rest, and I'll see you tomorrow." "I love you, too." Nicole tried to hug me without hurting me, and kissed me on my cheek, "Bye, Mommy." She smiled. "I'm glad you didn't die." "Me, too," I smiled back at her. "Me, too." The morphine kicked in. I drifted off to sleep.
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Leslie’s Diary: Oct. 10, 2007
Wednesday, March 7 Continued
That little race around the hallway wore me out! The nurses helped me back in bed, reattached my compression garments, fluffed my pillows, and handed me the morphine button. "AHHHH"! I let out a sigh of relief, closed my eyes and pressed the button. It wasn't long before I was fast asleep again.
I am not sure how long I dozed but it couldn't have been too long, because I awoke to the smell of food. There was actually solid food on my tray this time. I sat up in bed, drank a little coffee, ate a little oatmeal, and turned on the television. I had no idea what was going on in the world. It's weird to be in the news business but have no knowledge of the news!
I started watching 'Good Morning America' when Dr. Ledoux came in, all smiles. "How are you feeling?" he said in a sincere, caring way. "Sore, but better. I actually walked the halls alone this morning," I said with pride in my voice. "I heard." He checked out his masterpiece, my two new breasts and my stomach. "It's looking good," he assured me. I thanked him for all his work, his kindness, and his encouragement. He smiled when he walked out the door, "I'll see you in a few weeks!"
That was the last time I saw Dr. Ledoux in the hospital. Pete was back though, every day, checking in, taking notes, and making adjustments to my pain meds. This day when he came in, he said those dreaded words, "Leslie, it's time to get off the morphine pump." I looked at him with the biggest puppy dog eyes I could muster. "No, not yet," I said. "It's so nice to push that button, the pain just melts away and I fall off into a 'no-problem' state of mind." He smiled at me and said, "Yes, I know, Leslie. But as long as you're on the morphine, it's going to weigh you down, make you groggy and make recovering more difficult. Don't you want to go home?" He just HAD to dangle the "home" carrot in front of me! I agreed that home was nicer than even the quick-fix of morphine and agreed to have the pump removed. Instead, I would get vicodin pills. "Just one more push before you take it. PLEASE??" I asked with a pathetic look. "Go ahead, but it's the last one - so enjoy it!!" Pete told me I was doing great, and said I could have a full solid food diet. If everything continued like it was, I would be able to go home in just two days!
When I woke up again, Tony was sitting in the chair next to the bed. "Hi, honey? How are you feeling?" he asked, as he stood up and approached the bed. "They're taking away my morphine!" I said in a sad voice. Tony laughed, "Oh no, that's terrible!" he said, teasing.
I suddenly realized how gross I felt. I hadn't had a shower since the morning of the surgery - and that was two days ago. I don't think I had even brushed my teeth - YUCK! My hair was greasy and matted, my teeth were fuzzy, and I felt just plain stinky! I rang the nurse. "Can I help you?" she asked. "Yes, can I take a shower?" I pleaded. "I'll be right in."
When she came in - it wasn't to let me take a shower, but rather to let me know I was not cleared by my doctor to even be around water. "Dry bathing only honey - that's the doctor's orders. Gabby will be in soon - don't worry."
Gabby is one remarkable woman. She is so gentle, kind and understanding. It can't be easy to have her job. She's charged with the not-so-glamorous task of making patients like me feel (and smell) better! She would come in with bath wipes and gently wipe down my legs, arms, stomach and face. She couldn't wash my hair though! She was always filled with fantastic and funny stories about her life and her daily routines. I enjoyed my 'Gabby talks,' as I like to call them. I was in such a vulnerable position with no way to care for myself. But she never made me feel like a burden or a problem.
After she gave me a 'bath,' Tony helped me up and over to the sink. I brushed my teeth - boy, did that feel fantastic! I was still really sore and in pain, but today truly was a turning point! I could feel a bit of normalcy in my life.
Several of my friends came by for a visit; Vicki, Ginger, Jeanine, Carl, Julie and Ron Storey, Amy and Jody and more! I have so many great friends! I am blessed to be loved by so many. Times like this make you realize just how important friends are, and make you realize just how important you are to your friends.
All in all it was a jam-packed eventful day! Tony left to get Nicole from school, and brought her back to the hospital to say hello to me. We didn't visit very long though, because I was so exhausted from the long day! She kissed me and said, "I love you, Mommy, I can't wait until you get to come home!" Her little voice always makes me smile. A child's love is so pure! "Me too baby," I said to her. She left with Tony and I took a pain pill. It didn't work as fast as the morphine, but it worked, because soon, I was deep asleep!
Leslie’s Diary: March 26, 2008
First of all - let me say to all of you who have kept up with my diary - thank you and I'm sorry I haven't written more frequently. It's amazing how emotional I become when I write these entries. I never really anticipated this reaction. As I get further away from the surgery and the recovery, it becomes more difficult to revisit it! I am healed and happy and now just living my life! When I write these entries, it takes me back to the experience and I fight myself on it! I don't regret it, not even for an instant! But I am happy to have it behind me. I've decided to write shorter entries - more often - instead of such in depth ones infrequently. That will make it easier on me to write, and hopefully better for you to read! Please know I believe the decision I made was absolutely the right one and I don't want any of you to think I have had second thoughts! I know how important this diary is to each of you who are considering the surgery. I wish I could have had one to read when I went through it! So please be patient with me, and know that while this DIEP flap procedure was a big decision, it was certainly the right one for me!
Friday March 9th, 2007:
I awoke so excited! Today I was finally going home! Even more exciting, today I was finally going to take a shower! God bless Gabby and her sponge baths, but I really needed a good cleaning! My hair felt so dirty and gross, I couldn't wait to scrub it! Gabby walked into my room around 8:00 a.m. "Are you ready to take a shower" she asked? "What are you doing here?" I asked indignantly. "I don't need any help!" She raised an eyebrow as she spoke to me, with that tone a mother uses to speak to her unruly child. "Oh yes you do. You aren't as strong as you think, and besides, it's doctor's orders. I'm here to help you. Now do you want that shower or not?" Of course the answer was YES I wanted the shower. Besides, I knew she was right. I had trouble getting around on my own with an IV pole to hold on to and I still couldn't stand up straight. My stomach was so tight, I was afraid if I tried to stand up straight I would pop the stitches deep inside my stomach.
Gabby helped me up and guided me to the bathroom. The shower was wide open, with nothing to step over. It was just a large plastic square with a drain directly on the floor and a shower curtain to close for privacy. In the center of the shower was a big plastic chair. "What's that for" I asked suspiciously. "That's for you," Gabby answered. She gently slipped off my robe and helped me sit in the chair. I looked down around my neck - where drains from my stomach and breasts were pinned to a string. I suddenly felt a rush run through my body. I got queasy and dizzy. I felt like I was going to pass out! Gabby steadied me and held on to me as she started the water. She was absolutely right to be there with me. I probably would have passed out cold if she hadn't been there. I took a deep breath and began to feel the trickle of warm water run down my back and over my head. OOOHHH, it felt so comforting! Gabby took her time and really scrubbed my hair for me. I realized I couldn't have done that either. I still couldn't raise my hands over my head, so washing my hair would have been impossible!
When she finished, Gabby turned off the water, and wrapped a towel around me. “Thank you Gabby,” I said softly. “You are an angel!” “Just doing my job,” she answered, a smile on her face. She helped me dry off and put on my robe, and then guided me back to bed. I was exhausted. I don’t know why, because I didn’t do much, but I was really exhausted. I lay down on the bed, Gabby combed my hair out, and I dozed off! I knew as I slipped off to sleep that the next time I did so, it would be at my own home! That made me smile!