Posts Tagged ‘mastectomy

14
Oct
08

October 14, 2008

Today was my first radiation treatment. I got there 15 minutes early, and was told that their computers were down, but that they expected them to be up any time.

I got a lot of knitting done.

An hour and 15 minutes later, they took me in to start the checking process. They positioned me on my personal mold, and then started moving me around. There are lasers coming out of the walls on either side of the machine, and they use the two side tattoos to line you up. Then they start taking photos of you with the radiation machine – it projects a light in the shape of the area they plan to irradiate, and they take digital x-rays to make sure everything important is out of the way (heart, lungs, etc.). There are three different positions – one to the right, coming in at an angle over the right breast; one down and to the left, so it gets the portion of the left chest and axillary lymph nodes that are “in the shade”, as it were, of the left breast; and a small one that is nearly directly above that is aimed at the upper left chest to get the subclavicular lymph nodes.

Finally, after they got me lined up (with the neck support part of the mold *not* supporting my neck), and a couple rounds of pictures were taken, the two nurses came back in and started drawing on me again (with overhead pens). A guy (I presume he was a doctor, and not just a gawker) came in and looked, said “Yeah, you can go ahead and treat today”, and left – he didn’t even speak to me, and I couldn’t turn my head to look at him. That’s actually the first time anyone has been that rude to me since this whole cancer thing started – everyone else has introduced themselves, and made some effort to at least appear like they recognize me as an individual (and a human being, not just a slab of meat on the treatment table).

Finally, after a couple more rounds of x-rays, the nurse took some photos of me and my topographical map that was drawn on, and said it was time to do the treatment. It only took about 3 minutes, and after 2-1/2 hours, I finally got to go home (the appointment was supposed to be for an hour).

So now I have to go in every weekday morning through the 28th of November (but hey, I get Thanksgiving Day off!  Thanks.) I can’t put any deodorant on before the appointment (on the left side, that is), but can apply it afterwards – *if* I use Tom’s of Maine natural. I can’t have the area in direct sunlight (yeah, like I have really been jonesing to go to the nude beaches – in October and November) (oh, and that mastectomy thing – well, nobody’d notice, right?). I can’t wear a bra with underwires – the only kind I have, because I’m still using the ones I owned before I had the surgery, when I needed them.

Well, at least I’m started now, and can look forward to getting it over with, and having some down time before I start chemo again. Woo-hoo!

14
Apr
08

April 14, 2008

Friday was disappointing because my weight was up – only 0.6 pounds, but still. . .

Friday was great because we had beautiful weather, and I had to leave work early for a doctor appointment, so dang! I had to lower the convertible top. I hate it when that happens ;-}

Saturday was *hot*. I had to put the top down Saturday, too. Plus I went to a trunk show at Beads at Dusti Creek, and found some brilliant bargains, and have all sorts of new beading projects to work on. Dang.

Robin got a couple really good walks this weekend – on Saturday we went with the poodle and her mom to Bethany Lake park, and the only problem there was that it was firmly dusk coming back, so the gnats and mosquitoes were rising. We saw a miniature Australian Shepherd – I’d never heard of them before, and thought she was a puppy, but she was about three years old. Robin was intrigued, but didn’t stray from his poodle-love. On Sunday, we walked through the greenspace park north of our neighborhood (again with the poodle and her mom), and got to practice not freaking out on the busy street when cars come up from behind. We’re getting better about that ;-} Our next-door neighbor Arno, who’s around 5 or so, came over Sunday to ask if Robin could play, so they ran around the front yard, only it was hard to decide which one was chasing the other – I think they both thought they were in the lead.

I also power-washed part of the driveway – it is filthy, and had moss growing on it. It wasn’t too hard on my arms, but I realized too late that I was bending forward just slightly most of the time, and it made my back problems act up. I took an Epsom Salts bath when I came in from the yard, and I’ve been stretching and focusing on my core-strength exercises, trying to get it to clear up – I’ve also used an ice pack periodically. Unfortunately, I can’t take any anti-inflammatories, because of the blood thinner. I’ve got one month to go on that – I will be very happy to be done with the whole blood-clotting thing. But Brian gave me a nice massage last night, and that helped a lot. As long as I remember to get up and walk around periodically during the day at work, it seems to be maintaining, and not getting any worse.

Not much else to update – this was my second weekend after starting back to work, and I was not nearly as exhausted as I was on the first weekend. I still get tired, and my evenings after work consist of dinner and some reading, but I definitely see improvement in my stamina.

Interestingly, I don’t think I had a single hot flash today – either that, or I’m getting so used to them that I don’t notice them – nah, I definitely notice them!

My hair is really getting an attitude – it thinks it needs to be very curly, but it’s so short that it pokes out all over rather than laying flat. I don’t think I could get it to do this if I tried – oh, the wonders of chemotherapy! I see the plastic surgeon on Thursday for my 7-week check-up on the reconstruction. There’s still some swelling, but for the most part, I think he’s going to be ready to release me to doing whatever I feel like with lifting, etc., after one more week.

A reminder – there’s still time to join our walking team for the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event on May 10. We’d love to have you walk with us – the link takes you to my page where you can either sign up to walk with the team (you don’t have to be a coworker – all friends and family are welcome), donate online, or print out a form to mail a donation in. There have been several extremely generous donations, and in addition to making a donation, my employer, Schrodinger, is buying our team t-shirts for the employees who sign up to walk. I still feel a little overwhelmed by how many people are showing their support by either walking, donating, or both. Thank you all – and know that as well as my gratitude, you have the gratitude of those who benefit from the American Cancer Society’s research, even if they can’t thank you in person.

Julie

06
Apr
08

April 6, 2008

Well, it’s been a busy couple weeks since my last post.

Shortly after I posted on the 21st, I got a call that my little brother was in the hospital. I flew down to see him on Easter (after having a wonderful Easter lunch with Sharon and Gary and their family). Brian couldn’t go due to a major project he’s working on for a client, so he dropped me off at the airport with a stern injunction to NOT PICK UP my own suitcase. When I checked the bag, they weighed it in at 25 pounds – everyone I asked for help was very kind about picking it up for me – I felt guilty about just asking people, because I look very healthy (and of course, I *am* very healthy, with the caveat that overdoing the lifting could make me *unhealthy*), so I felt compelled to explain about having recently had surgery, can’t lift more than 10 pounds, etc. Apparently Brian had called his mother (with whom I was staying, rather than getting a hotel), and told her I wasn’t allowed to lift my bag, so she came out to the rental car when I arrived, and my little 83 year old mother-in-law unloaded my suitcase for me. How’s that for embarrassing?

Tim was discharged from the hospital on  the Monday after Easter, and because he was at a hospital quite a distance from his house, and they are on tight funds, I gave him a ride home. I got to briefly see my nephews and niece – they’re all so big! The oldest son still at home will turn 17 in May, and he was the only one to really recognize me – with so little hair, and since it’s been quite a while since we’ve been to visit, the younger kids had a hard time reconciling this aunt with the one that had longer hair.

I had scheduled my trip to fly home on Wednesday, because I didn’t know when Tim was going to be discharged, so I ended up having a free Tuesday to spend with Brian’s mom. At that time, I was still sleeping in the recliner at home, since my arm range of motion wouldn’t allow me to sleep with my arm in the right position to sleep in the bed – I can’t sleep on my back in bed, only on my sides – so I was sleeping in one of her recliners. We seemed to be on the same sleeping schedule, and stayed up late and slept in late on Tuesday. Then I took her shopping for some craft items she needed (she isn’t driving since her accident in November), and then we met Dani, one of my sister-in-laws on Brian’s side, for lunch. Had dinner with a group of Shirlie’s friends, and then we all played Mexican Train dominoes after.

Wednesday I flew home from Sacramento, and spent the next four days recovering from the trip. As I’ve learned, I can push as hard as I need to, but the payment comes due eventually.

This past Monday, I started back to work. I had to hit the ground running, because we’re just getting into a very busy time. With 800+ e-mails to look through, I spent Monday going through them (fortunately, most of them were either informational or ones that didn’t require action on my part), and got started dealing with the ones that *did* need my attention. The rest of the week, I was focused on getting literature and other items printed and ready to ship to our first big event of the tradeshow season. Friday afternoon I got everything packed (I didn’t pick up any of the boxes, because I’m still on the 10-pound-or-less lifting restriction) and discovered that even without lifting or even pushing the boxes around, just using the tape-gun to seal the packages was hard on me – I didn’t damage anything, but I definitely experienced some pain once I was back at my desk that afternoon.

Brian and I went out to dinner and a show on the 4th to celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary (actual anniversary date = 3/29) – McCormick & Schmick’s on 1st Avenue (*wonderful* halibut with pomegranate molasses – mmm), then on to Cirque du Soleil’s “Corteo”. Sharon and Gary met us there, and the show was fabulous! Of course, we’ve never been to a Cirque du Soleil show that wasn’t.

This weekend I’m totally wiped out – again, I am paying for pushing myself this past week – I had thought I might start back around 3/4-time to work, but discovered that not only did I need to work full-time due to the deadline for this tradeshow, but I also had to work extra hours just to get it done. Frankly, I’m happy to be back to work, and to be able to do my job – and I’d much rather be busy than not. But I can hardly wait until I’ve recouped enough of my normal level of health that I don’t have to spend the weekend just recovering from work. When I was younger, work used to be a way of recovering from the weekend!

After my trip to California, I weighed in on the 28th, and my weight was up 0.6 pounds. It is really hard to eat well when you’re traveling. Mostly due to the fact that you don’t always have the choice of healthy restaurants, or healthy menu items to choose from; and if someone is cooking for you, unless they’re also on-plan, they don’t know how to accommodate on-plan needs. All in all, considering that I’d also had a big Easter meal that week, I was surprised at only being up by 0.6 pounds over the previous week, although I’d hoped to be able to hold steady. This week I weighed in down 1.2 pounds, which brings my total loss so far to 13 pounds. Only 5 more pounds to go to meet my first mini-goal!

I’m in the market for another fan – the one I have been using has now broken in two places (I play with it too much when I’m not actually using it). Where does one buy these things? I have no idea – probably not in the clothes department, but maybe in the toy department? Or maybe I have to go to some place like Cost Plus (what are they called now, World Market?) or Pier 1. The hot flashes are bearable, although I would say they’re getting a little more intense than they used to be. I can usually feel them coming on, with a feeling that my face is flushing, and if I take my hat off (assuming I have one on), that is often enough to fend one off. If one is coming on when my head is bare, fanning myself seems to shorten the duration. I definitely think caffeine is one of my triggers, but there are just some things that one can’t give up and still be able to function.

There are a couple people I want to share news about – one of my friends from support group, Penny, just had surgery on the 31st, and is in the hospital recovering.  The surgery was a long one, but the doctors believe they got everything they were in after, and even took less than they thought they might have to.  Love and healing thoughts to Penny!

My physical therapist had a surprise double-bypass surgery a couple weeks ago – he is young and healthy, and had no idea he had trouble brewing in his arteries.  He is recovering well, and says that he can’t even lift as much as I can – when they crack your sternum and ribs, the weight limit is 5 pounds.  So, Tony, keep on healing, and maybe by the time we’re both released to normal activity, I’ll be able to outlift you for a week or so!

I had a bone density scan last week, of which I am awaiting the results – before the scan the technician asked what my height was, and I told her 5’3″.  She then measured me, and I came out as 5’2″.  I looked at my driver’s license after the scan, and it definitely says 5’3″.  Of course, that was from back in 1988, but I would be surprised if I really did lose 1″ of height.  As I recall, I was actually about 5′ 2-1/2″, but that it got rounded up.  Still, that would mean that I’ve lost 1/2″ of height sometime in the last . . . 20 years . . . well, when you put it like that, I guess maybe I can believe that.  I don’t know how often they’ll do a scan to compare to this base-line – the Femara has the possibility of causing bone density loss, but then, so does menopause in general.  Exercise helps, so I’m trying to get serious about a daily routine.

With my hair growing in, and only taking a daily hormone pill for the next five years, and being back to work on a full-time basis, I’m starting to feel as if life is finally getting back to normal.  Once I’m off the blood thinner, I will be as free of the medical establishment as possible as regular quarterly visits to the oncologist allows.

Whoo-hoo!

21
Mar
08

March 21, 2008

Had my second follow-up with the plastic surgeon yesterday – after talking to him about my concerns regarding the right breast, we’ve agreed to wait five months before making any decisions about whether there is a need to try any corrective measures to even it up and potentially reposition it.  I wasn’t particularly surprised to hear him say that in spite of my dislike of the positioning, he considers it to be a job well done, and that there isn’t really a lot that *can* be done to change it.

Part of the problem is that there’s still plenty of swelling in the tissues (on both sides, but particularly on the right), and that because I’m right-handed, there’s additional fluid accumulation on the right side, which appears to all be accumulating under my arm.  Also, another part of the problem is that I have fat tissue under the arm – he showed me how to feel where the edge of the implant is, and sure enough, it is much farther to the left than I would have guessed.  As well, the flatness is being caused by the tightness of the overlying muscle – it has loosened up on both sides, but less so on the right side.

Thus we wait until the swelling and fluid accumulation have dissipated, and allow the muscles more time to relax and adapt to their new state.  The five months is to allow complete healing before we proceed with creating nipples (typically thigh tissue, I think); at that time, if I’m still unsatisfied, we can look at trying some liposuction of the fat tissue.  He doesn’t feel that there is anything he can to with the muscle – one’s muscles have a built-in tightness that can be affected by exercising and stretching, but surgically there’s really nothing to be done to make it looser – it could only be drawn tighter, which obviously would not be something I want done.  I haven’t decided yet if I want to have nipples made – that would be a purely cosmetic thing, for me and Brian to decide if it is worth the trouble.  At this point, I’m tending against it, but we’ll see.  I’m still considering whether a nice dragon tattoo might not be more appealing. . .

I drove for the first time yesterday, and last night started having some sharp, tingly pains in my right breast.  Even though I have been released to drive and start extending my range of motion, shifting is a little more than I really should be doing yet.  Unfortunately, I have to drive myself to another appointment this afternoon, so we’ll see how that goes.  It may be that short trips will build up the range of motion, or may make the pain worse – just typing here is starting to bring on a little sharp jab now and then.  I’m on light duty for the next 5 weeks – not allowed to lift anything more than 10 lbs, no pushing or pulling heavy doors or grocery carts, no reaching and lifting of anything more than very light stuff.  At 2 months, I can do anything I want, but in the meantime, I’m only allowed to do weight-bearing exercises that involve my legs and abdomen.  Once I return to work on the 31st, I will have to be careful to stick to the restrictions – hopefully by then driving won’t be causing any difficulties, or I’ll have to figure out how to get downtown without driving (from my house, taking all public transit means a 1-1/2 to 2 hour commute, each way).

The new medication, Femara, doesn’t seem to be causing any increase in my menopausal symptoms – I have started having some pain in my left knee, and a little bit in my right hip, but I wouldn’t expect it to happen that quickly – it started on Monday, after only my second dose.  So I suspect that the knee pain is a recurrence of an occasional problem I’ve had prior to this, and am attributing the hip pain to not getting enough exercise.

Last week my weight was down – this week, based on my home scale, I’m expecting that it will hold steady, or perhaps go down a little bit.  I’ve been sticking to plan, but haven’t done as good a job as usual at getting the right balance of foods in.

Have a happy Easter!

18
Mar
08

March 18, 2008

Well, as I thought might be the case, I’m feeling much more my normal self today – in some ways, I look at yesterday’s post, and feel as if I could climb right back under all the depressing feelings and be right back where I was then; but I can also look at each individual feeling more clinically, and say “Empirically, yes it is true that I feel (or have felt) that way, but it’s not how I *normally* feel.”

As someone who has historically been most excellent at stuffing my feelings, and causing lots of problems for myself by doing so, it is tempting to justify my outburst as needing to vent.  And again, that is empirically true – it is a good thing to let the bad feelings out.  Blurting it all out in a public blog is something that was both wildly successful (in the sense that I *do* feel much better today) and appalling to me (I’m normally a pretty self-contained person, and when I do talk to friends or family about my feelings, it is usually after I’ve mulled over them and clarified them to myself (not brooded on them) before I share them).  Brian occasionally gets the brunt of undigested emotions, but for the most part it’s so that he can help me do the mulling and clarifying.

At any rate, the fear and sadness, the frustration and worry, those are all things I feel, but typically they don’t all hit me at one time.  Normally, I may be aware of one or two of those feelings at any given time, but they’re outweighed by my prevailing attitude, which is the more optimistic and positive way I feel most of the time.  Yesterday was one of the times when the feeling that my life has completely changed in a way out of my control (and for a control freak, what could be worse!) was overwhelming.  In reality, my life has and will only change as much as I let it – whether I have my ovaries intact and whether or not I have “real” breasts is a physical change, and I can let it change who I am or not, as I choose.  Most of the time, my choice is to direct the changes towards the positive, letting myself explore my artistic and creative side; being there for friends who have worse problems (stage 4 cancer is pretty damn serious); and enjoying life and people for who and what they are at any given moment.

Obviously, there are days when I don’t have the strength to stand up to that ideal – yesterday was one of them.  Fortunately, they are few.

17
Mar
08

March 17, 2008

Today I’m tired, and depressed.  It’s going to take more than a green beer to cheer me up.

Even though I know that I should expect some emotional fallout from just having had surgery, and potential mood swings from entering menopause, I am just tired of dealing with cancer, of dealing with the “necessary” mutilations done to my body, and of dealing with having to go through recovery from surgery once again.  I’m angry at having to be afraid of getting another pulmonary embolism, one that might be less survivable than the last ones.  I’m frustrated at having to take all this time off work, with *none* of it being vacation, and all of it stuck at home.  I’m hurt at friends who don’t call, or e-mail, or visit; and annoyed at people who feel as if I should be calling them long distance because I’ve got all kinds of time on my hands and they are important enough to warrant a personal report on how I’m doing, without considering that I haven’t had more than half a paycheck coming in since September.  I’m sad because my hair will grow back, but my breasts won’t; and devastated at what I consider to be the awful results of the reconstruction.  I feel guilty for not having the dna testing that would tell us if my family carries the breast cancer gene markers; and worried because the extensive family history seems pretty clearly indicative that it does.  I’m grumpy about not being able to sleep at night.  I’m afraid that I won’t be insurable in the future, and I’m not even fifty yet.

However, I am grateful for the friends and family who do call, e-mail, and visit, and most importantly, care; for the fact that I was very fortunate to catch the cancer early; for the fact that I survived a pulmonary embolism in each lung, in spite of being misdiagnosed at first; for being able to take as much time off as I have and still being able to meet our mortgage payment and other important bills; and for not yet being fifty.

I’ll get over the depression, and one of these days I won’t be tired out, I’ll get back to being able to sleep at night, and will even have times when I do not think about what I’ve had to do to my body to survive, because I won’t have constant reminders of pain and discomfort that force my attention to my scars and my misshapen form.

15
Mar
08

March 15, 2008

Saw the ovary surgeon yesterday, and she says everything looks good, and I can start getting the scars wet now – there’s still quite a bit of crust on them, mostly held in place by the surgical glue they use to hold the outside of the scar together, and although it might bleed a little bit as it comes off, it’s now fair game. I have to be sure to watch how much bleeding they do, though, since I’m still on the blood thinner. She also says that I can start some very light exercises that use my abdominal muscles, but very few repeats to start with, and work my way up very slowly, stopping if there is any pain. The bruising and damage to the tissues tends to be exacerbated by the blood thinner, so it will take me longer to heal than it otherwise might have. I still have external bruises from the blood thinner injections that I was getting before the surgery, and it’s been around three weeks for those, with at least another week to go before they’re gone – she indicated that the internal “damage” from the operation will take at least as long to heal.

My digestion finally seems to be nearly back to normal – still a couple blips here and there, but for the most part, I seem to have gotten past the surgery/drug-induced difficulties. I haven’t had to take any pain pills for the last couple days – I do still get isolated pains, and when I swallowed some juice wrong, had a coughing spell that was very uncomfortable during, but the pain faded pretty quickly after.

I see the plastic surgeon again later next week, but I confirmed yesterday that I can now get the scars wet – I can’t shower on the front side, because the water drumming against the tissue can cause swelling, but I can let the water run over my shoulders from behind. I can also start doing a little bit more with my arms (not too much, because swelling is definitely a concern; plus still no pushing, pulling, lifting anything over 10 lbs, or too much repetitive motion), and they even said I can drive if I feel comfortable, even though I have a manual transmission. More than anything, I suspect that what will drive my driving is how tired I get. Brian drove my to my support group meeting on Thursday morning – I hadn’t been for a couple months because it interferes with work hours, so I hadn’t seen anyone there for a while. After the meeting, we had a little lunch at the hospital cafeteria, and my friend Sue drove me home, with a short stop at the grocery store to pick up some half-and-half. After she dropped me at home, I basically just collapsed in my chair and after watching an episode of Stargate SG1, slept for two-and-a-half hours. And Friday, I rode downtown with Brian because I wanted to go to my Weight Watchers meeting – hadn’t weighed in for the previous 2 weeks, and I didn’t want to miss another one. However, Brian had an early meeting to go to, so I ended up waiting in the Borders bookstore cafe for a couple hours (bought some books and had some tea, so I was mostly sitting down the whole time). From there I walked over to Pioneer Place and the meeting (down 5.8 lbs for 3 weeks – whoo-hoo!), and then met Brian back at the car. Then we drove to the follow-up appointment, and it was while I was sitting in the warm, not-so-comfy exam room that I realized how tired I was – from walking a total of about 2-1/2 or 3 blocks and otherwise mostly sitting down all morning. When we got home, I slept for three hours, even with Robin going nuts when Brian came back from a client site, and the phone and doorbell ringing. So I still don’t have a lot of energy to spare, and the doctor said no matter how healthy you look on the outside, it just takes a certain amount of time for the body to recuperate. Another two weeks should have me ready to start back at work at the very least half-time, probably more – she said it would be a mistake to push too hard and have a set-back.

At any rate, I’m taking it very easy – watching a movie or two, some Stargate episodes, lots of reading and napping. Poor Robin is happy to have me at home, but disappointed that it involves so much sitting around. He thinks I should be able to chase him around the back yard, or at least play rope with him. Augie the Dorkie and his mom came for a visit on Tuesday, and the two boys entertained themselves while Cathy and I visited. I still can’t knit or bead or anything, but hopefully soon.

Oh yeah – the ovary surgeon said that it would only be about 24 hours after the surgery until the estrogen built up in my body dissipated, so that I would start experiencing whatever symptoms of menopause I’m going to have very quickly (i.e., as of now, I’m probably at the worst it’s going to get). Basically, I do have my hot ‘flashes’, and sometimes more of them than other times – I haven’t yet had a chance to identify triggers – but they’ve been very controllable by removing my hat or scarf, and at night pushing back the covers if necessary. I also dug up a little hand fan, which helps when I’m in a situation where I can’t remove any more clothing. Definitely layering is in my future ;-} She thinks I might experience a little bit more once I start taking the aromatase inhibitor (Sunday). Hopefully it won’t be too bad.

Even after sleeping in this morning, I think I’m ready for a nap. Cheers!

Julie




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