Here’s a message Michelle posted on Facebook on Sunday:
“I’m totally celebrating the fact that tomorrow is my last chemotherapy treatment – I MADE IT! The 7 weeks of radiation that I’ll do next will seem like a cakewalk compared to chemo. Thanks to everyone praying for me and sending me good vibes – it is really working because I feel stronger than ever, and I still have my … eyebrows! Plus, I’m totally chemolicious, baby!!!”
In case you didn’t see Michelle’s letter to the editor in Sunday’s Yakima Herald-Republic:
To the editor — Re: The Nov. 17 Associated Press article about new guidelines for screening mammograms.
Apparently, the federal Preventive Services Task Force under the Obama administration knows more than the American Cancer Society when it comes to screening women for breast cancer! Is it just me, or is this statement outrageous? According to the Associated Press, under the new guidelines recommended by this task force, women do not need mammograms in their 40s and should not even bother with performing self-breast exams.
Oh, really? Never mind that a self-exam and mammogram found my cancer at age 39 (and I was not in a high-risk category); it seems that the new guidelines are nothing more than a cost-saving measure to pay for universal health care! If thousands of women between ages 40 and 50 die due to these new guidelines, then that’s a sacrifice we need to make for universal health care? No way! Thanks, but I’ll still be following the guidelines of the American Cancer Society and not some politically motivated task force.
It’s sad that after a decade of gains being made by women taught to perform self-exams and get recommended mammograms that we now have government saying, “It doesn’t matter.” Well, it will always matter to me!
November 5, 2009 by Robin Beckett
Here’s a little update from Michelle’s Facebook page on Tuesday:
Had chemo on Monday morning, Gut Busters at the YMCA later that night, and yoga tonight. See, a little chemotherapy will not keep me down, and as of yesterday, I’m half-way to the finish line!
She’s had three of six treatments so far. Aside from feeling tired from the chemo — and being absolutely tired of cancer taking over her life — she’s kept up a great attitude and has been able to avoid getting sick so far.
— Sara Bristol
Hi all, it’s Sara here. I got an update from Michelle this morning, so I thought I’d share with you all that she’s doing really well so far. She received her second dose of chemotherapy on Monday and was able to go work out at the Y that evening!
After the first round of chemo in September, she felt just fine for about five days. On the sixth day, she felt like she’d been clobbered by a ton of bricks. Guess we’ll know soon enough whether that pattern’s going to repeat itself. In the meantime, here’s what Michelle’s been doing this week:
“Chemo on Monday, ‘Gut Busters’ at the YMCA on Monday night, a white blood cell booster shot on Tuesday (plus yoga on Tues. night), a trip to Northstar and the Wellness House on Wednesday (plus Target to buy Alexandre’s cowboy costume), then home in time to do 2 loads of laundry! Okay – so now I’m tired, but I cannot seem to ‘become accepting’ of a messy house. Tomorrow (Thursday), I’m doing Pilates in the AM (a healthy body goes hand in hand with healing!), yet more lab work in the afternoon, and yoga in the PM.”
Whew! Just reading that schedule is wearing me out… I’ll let you know when I get another update.
— Sara Bristol
So, the idea behind this blog is to give Michelle’s friends, as well as Playdate’s readers, an opportunity to follow her progress as she battles breast cancer. Some posts will be written by Michelle, while others will be written by me (Sara Bristol, the coordinator of Playdate) and some posts may be written by other folks who are close to Michelle or have expertise with cancer, etc. That’s one of the advantages of blogs, I suppose. They’re an open forum, a work in progress. So, we’ll just start writing and posting and see where this takes us.
First, I want to get you caught up on what’s been going on in Michelle’s life this past week. She started chemotherapy on Monday, Sept. 21 at her doctor’s office here in Yakima. Chemotherapy is a process of treating disease with chemicals that kill cells (both good an bad). Chemo, as it’s commonly called, is effective in fighting cancer because it kills cells that divide quickly (one of the key properties of cancer cells). However, there are plenty of “good” cells that also divide quickly and are harmed in the process, such as hair follicles and cells in the digestive tract. So that’s why chemotherapy patients eventually lose their hair and become sick from the treatments.
However, the sickness and hair loss typically doesn’t happen right away. Michelle’s doctors have told her she’ll start to experience more of these nasty side effects as the chemo drugs begin to build up in her system, probably after her second or third treatment.
So, let’s back up a minute: Michelle had her first treatment last Monday. It was a five-hour process that basically involved her staying in one place while the drugs were delivered intravenously. She’ll receive treatments every three weeks. (I’m not sure how many treatments she’s expecting to receive, so we’ll have to answer that question later.)
Michelle’s mother Diana was able to come from Port Angeles for the week to support her and help with the kids. Michelle was tired last week, but she was able to work out (at a slower pace) and do some yoga, which was helping her feel more “normal.” (She typically works out at least four times a week.)
I got to see Michelle in Bellevue for a few minutes on Friday. I happened to be in town visiting a friend; she was there for an appointment at Anton’s Hair Company. Rather than wait for her hair to fall out, Michelle decided to keep it. She had a custom wig made from her own hair.
It was a bold move: Michelle watched in the mirror as Anton shaved her head completely bald. She had a feeling of “detatched acceptance,” Michelle told me later. Just one of many tough decisions she’s had to make — and this fight’s just getting started.
— Sara Bristol
Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the Oct/Nov 2009 issue of Playdate Magazine featuring three Yakima-area moms who had been diagnosed with breast cancer before age 40. While the other two mothers are in remission, Michelle Berthon’s battle with cancer is ongoing. This blog is designed to keep you updated on her story. To start, please meet Michelle:
Michelle Berthon, diagnosed at 39
Just this summer, the last week of June, Michelle and husband Todd celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary with a cruise to Alaska.
“It was the best vacation we’ve ever had,” Michelle says, enthusiastically ticking off a list off the couple’s adventures: Rock climbing, sea kayaking, riding a zip line.
Aboard the ship, Michelle also performed a breast self-exam, a precautionary task she’d been through roughly once a month for years. This time, she felt a lump.
“I was not nervous or worried,” recalls Michelle, who’d had two benign fibroadenomas removed in the past. Still, the stay-at-home mom to Alex, 5, and Madeleine, 3, arranged for a mammogram as soon as she got back to Yakima.
So, it caught Michelle by surprise when she learned in July that she had a Stage II Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in her right breast. The tumor was fast-growing, but Michelle found it early, before it had spread into her lymph nodes or other tissues.
Nine days after her diagnosis, and just three weeks after she found the lump, Michelle had surgery to remove the tumor. A month later, she had a second surgery so doctors could make sure they’d removed all of the cancerous cells; test results indicated the surgeries were a success.
Dreading the sickness and hair loss caused by the cancer-fighting drugs, Michelle began chemotherapy in mid-September. She remains confident that early detection, aggressive treatment and prayers of support will help her win this battle.
“I have no doubt I’ll make it to the five-year mark,” Michelle says. “I’ve never had any doubt.”
– Sara Bristol