Posts Tagged ‘ovary removal

26
Apr
10

Chemo #4 – The Great Scrabble Hustle

Laura came to my chemo session today, which also involved meeting with the doctor. Fair warning: I told her this might give her tmi about my bodily functions, and told her I could come get her when it was time for chemo; but she decided to tough it out. I think she was a little flustered by the end.

And fair warning to readers: euphemisms ahead. If euphemisms are still too much for you, I recommend you skip this post.

This week I met with the gynecological oncologist who removed my ovaries (this is not a euphemism), because about 1 or 1-1/2 weeks into chemo I developed what seemed like an abrasion that had a lump associated with it down in my lady parts (euphemism). I thought at first it might be an ingrown hair causing an abscess (non-euphemism), but not being a contortionist was unable to get a good look, and it eventually cleared up to just being a small lump under the skin. It actually took another week or so for me to have a paranoid attack about whether someone (well, OK, women specifically), can develop cancer in their flower petals (euphemism).

So in my meeting with Dr. Sweetheart, she reassured me that although it was possible to have cancer there, it much more likely is a cyst or a healing abrasion, ingrown hair, or other injury-type lump. If it hasn’t completely cleared up in the next month or two, we’ll do a biopsy, but I’m no longer totally paranoid. As to the cause of the lump, I would have to relate that with many more euphemisms than even I care to type; so let it simply be said that it is still a mystery. However, the conversation regarding cause led to many more euphemistic-laden subjects, and neither Doctor Sweetheart nor I flinched, but I sensed some going on in my peripheral vision.

Suffice it to say that Brian and I are scheduling a date night for my next chemo break-week (euphemism).

Last night, Laura had suggested that I download Scrabble to my iPhone so we could play during chemo. We chose some recliners over in the corner, and passed the phone back and forth. Now, I’m a pretty good word person, and I know some pretty good $20 dollar words. I even know some pretty good $50 words; but seriously, what kind of word can you make with the letters NEELNER? or UUSKINI? and why, when Laura was getting all the “bad” letters (Z, X, Q, etc) was she not only able to make words, but get all the Triple Letter and Triple Word scores? I, sirs, have been hustled.

Next time, I’ll have to play the cancer card.

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

08
Mar
08

March 8, 2008

Ouch.

Do you know what happens when you are startled, say, when someone sneaks up behind you and touches you, or when you’re playing a computer role-playing game, and the bad guy jumps out in front of you unexpectedly?

You jump.

But do you know the specifics? Your pelvic floor tightens and jerks upward, your abdominal muscles tighten and pull inwards, and not only that, but quite probably, if you’re sitting down, you involuntarily push yourself upwards in a flight response, however aborted.

Ouch.

I had thought that, in spite of the ongoing pain as the usual bowel function has been restoring itself, I was starting to really improve, and that the abused muscles and tissues were starting to reach normal levels of usage without too much pain.

What the above reaction showed me is that in fact, I’m still babying my body, and with very good reason. I started paying attention, and I noticed that I still move very slowly, and initially I walk hunched over my abdomen slightly and straighten up only after several steps. I’m still resting against the backs of chairs when I sit down, although normally, I typically sit forward. Trying to stay upright on the exam table requires a lot more effort from one’s abdominal muscles that I realized. Bending over, I’m using lots of support from my arms, which is OK as long as I don’t push down, or put a lot of weight on the arms (or move them very far in any direction). When you just have laparoscopic surgery, you depend on your arm and chest muscles to compensate for not being able to use your abdominals. When you have breast surgery, you depend on your abdominal muscles to compensate for not being able to use your arms or your chest muscles. When you’ve had both. . .

So no scary movies for me for another week at least.

Weight-wise, I’ve actually dropped four pounds in two weeks, mostly because I haven’t been eating a lot. I’m generally back to normal foods, but my appetite is feeling pretty reduced.

We met with the plastic surgeon on Thursday – he’s pleased with the general results, although I think he agrees that the right side is currently not looking the way *I* want it to look (it may look fine to him, as far as being a surgeon goes, but aesthetically, I’m not happy because it still bulges too much to the side and is still fairly flat on top). Of course, there’s swelling, and so it’s hard to tell what it’s going to look like in the long run – before I freak out and start demanding that it be put “right”, I’m going to control myself and wait to see what it looks like once it is declared healed. The left side looks pretty good – still bulges a little to the side, but it’s more rounded and evenly proportioned. I have to do nothing with my arms for another week, and have another appointment in two weeks.

My ovary surgeon is in Maui for ten days (I hadn’t realized that I’d forced her to do a major operation the day before she was leaving for vacation, but it explains the hesitation her scheduler had about the 29th, and also why in the face of the hesitation she didn’t suggest moving to the next week). I’ve had some difficulty getting the pain medication and the stool softener dosages correlated properly – Brian and I call it the Porridge Paradigm, and decided that the point is searching for the Goldilocks Effect. You know the story – this porridge is too hot, this porridge is too cold, this porridge is just right; this bed is too hard, this bed is too soft, this bed is just right – substitute stool for bed, and you’ve got the point. However, I’ve managed to reduce the pain pills to roughly 1/4 – 1/3 the maximum dosage I was taking (although I bumped that up briefly after the little “dungeon exploring accident”). My follow-up with her is in a week.

I also met with the oncologist for the first time since my last chemo in December. Now that I’m post-menopausal, he wants me to start my aromatase inhibitor, and we’ve settled on the particular one (Letrozole, brand name: Femara – don’t you love these drug brand names? This ones sounds so feminine yet mature. . .). He gave me a month’s sample to get me started. I’m planning on starting it on the 16th (he doesn’t know that – I decided that after I’d gotten home from a long tiring afternoon). But I don’t think my body is quite ready for a major influence change this close to having had surgery – I’m going to give it another week to heal, and to shake out the new status of being a (mostly) estrogen-free state (not quite like Jefferson Free State, but we no longer owe those annoying hormonal taxes). I haven’t had a lot of reaction yet to the lack of estrogen – as I mentioned in my previous post, I had started sleeping warm again, and that is continuing; however, I am starting to have hot spells during the day (they don’t really “flash” – that makes it sound as if you are just all of a sudden sweating and way too hot – mine creep up on me, and if I ignore them they will kind of “flash”, but if I take care of it as I feel it coming on, by removing my hat or scarf, it’s usually just fine). I asked the oncologist how quickly one should expect the estrogen to be gone after surgically removing the main source, thus triggering official menopause, and he admitted that he doesn’t know. I’ve tried to find it on the ‘net, and haven’t found anything that really specifies that particular information. Should I be searching for “estrogen half-life” or something? I guess if I don’t know what my base level of estrogen was to begin with, knowing the half-life wouldn’t really be any help.

So that’s how it’s going for now – mostly not too bad as long as nothing sneaks up on me.

04
Mar
08

March 4, 2007

Hi y’all –

Thank you, everyone, for the cards, calls, flowers, and visits! I am doing pretty well, for the most part. I had a lot of pain on Saturday while I was still at the hospital, but Sunday and Monday I had cut way down on the pain pills because I wasn’t having a lot of problems.

Sunday evening the waited-for event, some indication that my bowels were coming back online, made itself known, and I celebrated by reducing the pain pills even further. It all started to seem pretty normal, but then Monday evening, I hit a snag. Rather than constipation relieved by the stool softeners, I started having diarrhea, which I suspected was being exacerbated by the stool softeners because I’d reduced the amount of oxycodone, but not the colace. Suddenly, there wasn’t as much need to soften things, but it was still working on it. I also developed a mild fever of 100.4 degrees, which is verboten after surgery. Since it was midnight by the time I took my temperature, I didn’t call the doctor, and planned to call them this morning at 8:00, after having taken my temperature again so I could give them an accurate update. I also bumped the oxycodone dose back up, both because I was starting to feel a lot more pain, but also because I thought it had acetaminophen in it to help control the fever. Apparently I was wrong about that, but it certainly helped with the pain.

By this morning, my temp was back down to normal (which for me is typically right around 98 degrees).  The surgeon’s advice nurse said to call if my temp went back up, but otherwise I could just take some immodium for the diarrhea.

So far I haven’t had any indications that I’ve entered menopause, and have even been chilled, rather than too warm. Finally, last night while I was snatching cat-naps between cramps, I started sleeping hot again for the first time since my surgery (something I’ve done for many, many years). I had to strip the blankets off, take off my hat, remove my sweater, and pull my neck scarf off – all items I’d been too cold to go without since I got home from the hospital. Even though I started out by putting everything back on, I just kept having to remove it all again, so I ended up wrapping the scarf around my shoulders and pulling up one blanket.

I haven’t been focusing on eating all my points for Weight Watchers, mostly because it has been a bit of a struggle to eat much of anything.  I do get hungry, but it doesn’t take much to satisfy the hunger, and so I haven’t been worried that I’m overeating.  I probably am undereating, which is just as bad, but I had planned on taking one to two weeks break, and am hoping that at the least I will maintain my previous weight loss, and if I’m lucky lose some more, rather than putting on anything.  As of this morning, I’m at about the same weight I was at my last official weigh in.

The laparoscopic scars are small, and although I’m sure there are stitches inside, the outside was only sealed with glue.  As I’ve had to clean spots to give myself my Lovanox injections, I clean off the iodine – there are gleaming white patches amidst the jaundice-yellow overall tone of my skin currently.  I haven’t seen the scars for the reconstruction yet – my first post-surgery follow-up appointment is Thursday, and I can’t change the dressing or shower until then.  Fortunately my hair is so short that I don’t have to worry about trying to keep it clean – also, I still haven’t gone back to my excessively oily skin and hair that I had prior to chemo.  I’m hoping that part is a permanent change.

I’m about due for my next dose of pain pills, and am going to have a mug of boullion then lay down again.  I haven’t had a lot of focus so far, yet it’s so much better than the previous surgery – I can read, and although I don’t read much at a time, I *remember* what I’ve read so I can be right back into it when I pick up the book again.

Poor Robin is resigned to my being boring again – he follows me everywhere (I am still getting up and pacing around the house periodically), and collapses at the foot of my chair if I don’t get the foot elevated right away.  Sigh.

Julie

02
Mar
08

March 2, 2008

I’m home – they sent me home Saturday late afternoon, and although I’m definitely having pain, it’s controllable with the pills they gave me. I spend a lot of time snoozing, and I always think I’ve slept a lot longer than I really have – It always seems like 4 or 5 hours, when it’s only been 25 minutes or as long as an hour-and-a-half.

So far, no symptoms of menopause – in fact I’m having the reverse. I’m very cold. Frankly, I’d prefer that, because it’s a lot easier to layer on than to layer off.

Anyway, just wanted to touch bases, and let you know that I’m doing well. I will write more later.

jkm

29
Feb
08

Surgery

It’s Brian here at the editor’s desk tonight (literally, as Julie really does have an editor’s desk). Julie is recovering from a long day of surgery.

The day started at roughly “way-too-early” o’clock and we were out the door by 5AM for arrival at 5:30 at the hospital. Needless to say, traffic wasn’t a problem. We checked in and went through the usual surgery preparations (“Do you have a pulse?”, “Is your temperature in two or more digits?”, “I need to verify that you have blood”). The hospital staff operated in their usual professional, efficient, and friendly manner that we appreciate so much. The anesthesiologist decided it was time to get this show on the road, and wheeled Julie off to the OR at 7:45 for her own personal triathlon: chemo port removal, breast reconstruction, and ovary removal. I went off to find something hot to drink and a place to take a nap.

The plastic surgeon (an odd term if you think about it, since neither he or his patients are plastic) came out to see me at 9:30 to report that the chemo port removal and the reconstruction surgery went well, and that the ovary removal was in progress. We discussed that Julie’s next few days at home might be difficult. Certain actions like getting up out of a chair were going to be complex, since she couldn’t use her arms to lift (it messes with the healing), but her abdomen was going to be sore from the other surgery. I realized that the normal way I would help a person get up would be to lift under the arm, and that was probably verboten. He said I should get behind her and push. I’m not sure I quite have the picture on that, so this may be interesting.

One of the nurses called from the OR about 11:30 to say that all was well, but that it was taking longer than expected and not to worry. That call says something about the staff. Making that call didn’t help Julie’s surgery. It was made just out of consideration for me. I think that’s great.

At 2 PM, the remaining surgeon came out to tell me that Julie was in recovery and the surgery had gone challengingly, but well. Apparently, in most cases the various components of the body in that area are reasonably easy to separate from each other. Julie, however, is different. Perhaps due to her hysterectomy a few years ago, a lot of adhesion had developed. Everything was stuck pretty tightly to everything else and nothing wanted to let go. The surgeon had hoped initially to perform the surgery laparoscopically and by hand. After discovering all the adhesion, however, she fell back to plan B, which was to perform the surgery laparoscopically, but through the use of a robot. She told me this was a perfect case for justifying the use of the robotic controls. The robot gave her much better 3D visualization, and it also gave her microscopic control of the instruments.

So, after quite a lot of effort, the ovaries were removed successfully and all the surrounding tissue was left intact. The pathologist examined the removed tissue with particular care given Julie’s recent cancer battle, and reported no indication of cancer at all. That was what we expect to hear, but it was still a relief to hear.

Julie spent 2 hours in recovery, and I saw her in her hospital room about 4:20. She was fairly groggy, but remarkably coherent and showing much of the typical Julie humor. Some nausea set in in response to a sip of ginger ale, and the nurse responded promptly with some anti-nausea medication that took care of that.

I talked to her later in the evening, and she was having toast and seemed to be doing fine with it.

So there we are. Julie is expected home tomorrow or on Sunday. She’ll have a couple of weeks of healing, and then hopefully life can get pretty much back to normal.

We’ve talked to some of you today, and we appreciate the good wishes and support we’ve received from all of you throughout this ordeal.

Take care, everyone. Goodnight.

25
Feb
08

February 25, 2008

The countdown begins . . .

We met with both surgeons last Thursday – everything is set to go for this coming Friday. I have a pre-admissions appointment Tuesday morning, where they take a broad medical history, make sure any medications I need are arranged for, and do any necessary blood tests.

First, my chemo port will be removed. While the surgeon who did my mastectomy does that, the plastic surgeon will work on my left breast. He expects to finish both sides in roughly an hour – the incision is made over the existing mastectomy scars, and a slit is made in the muscle that overlays the tissue expanders. The permanent implants are inserted, drains are inserted, and everything is closed up.

The ovarian removal will be done laparoscopically, using a Da Vinci robot. I went to their web site, and you can even view video of surgery being performed. Frankly, it’s a lot less messy inside than one would expect. It’s sort of like doing surgery with a Wii.

I have to be on a clear liquid diet on Thursday, only broth, clear juices, water, jello. Any other ideas of clear liquids that anyone can suggest are welcome (I’ve already considered the intoxicants – probably a gin and tonic would be fine, but it would require quite a few of them to stop me from being hungry).

Our neighbors are going to dogsit Robin on Friday – so while I’m under the knife, he’ll be romping around with Jasmine. Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

Last Friday, I started noticing that I seem to be having temperature-control problems, more than just the usual throwing-off-the-blankets-at-night kind (although those are still extant). Rather than hot flashes, I’m having hot sustaineds. I especially get very hot if I’m wearing a hat or scarf, and as of today, I’ve had to spend most of my time bare-headed, because every time I got cool enough to put my hat back on, it would take very little time for me to reach “boiling” point. This is all well and good during the winter (I didn’t need to buy that down coat after all!), but it’s going to be expensive during the summer, having to run the air conditioning constantly at 50 degrees ;-}

Anyway, not really much else to tell – Brian will post after surgery to update how I’m doing. I will be in the hospital for at least one night, maybe two. It’ll really depend on how they feel I’m doing clot-wise (or, of course, if there are any complications).

A very big thank-you to Schrodinger (my employer) for making an extremely generous donation to the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event – and to everyone else who has made donations so far or joined the team to walk. I am humbled and overwhelmed by the caring and support that everyone has shown me personally, and I greatly appreciate the willingness to support the cause, also.

Julie

17
Feb
08

February 17, 2008

Not much to talk about this week.  I spent two days at home with a bad cold – BC (before cold), I kept saying that I was recovering fine, no problems other than a little fatigue, but basically, I was over the chemo and the surgery.  I now believe what everyone has been saying – that you don’t recover from chemo that quickly.  There’s no way this was such a bad cold, but it hit me hard.  On the other hand, even though I’m still congested and coughing, I don’t feel as wiped out today as I did last week.

I didn’t get weighed in Friday due to being sick; but my home scale was at least 2 pounds down from where it had been the previous Friday, so I’m sure I’ve made some progress.

Other than that, we meet with both surgeons on Thursday, and we’ll finalize the details of what and how – my biggest decision (now that I’ve agreed to do the ovary removal surgery) is whether I’m going to have silicon or saline implants.

Captain Peachfuzz signing off!

10
Feb
08

February 10, 2008

Just call me Captain Peachfuzz . . .

Biggest news first: I have hair! As of 5-weeks-post-chemo, I couldn’t see or feel any hair besides the stubble that never seemed to go away in the first place. On Monday I thought I felt a little bit, and by Wednesday, I definitely had peach fuzz that was both tactile and visible. It’s very soft, mostly white, and looks like it’s pretty thin so far, but historically my hair has grown very fast, so I suspect that before long I’ll exchange the peach-fuzz look for the dandelion look. There’s no warmth involved, however – I still need to wear scarves or hats to keep from freezing. Every once in a while I’ll get too warm and take off my hat to cool off, but that’s pretty rare.

My weigh-in went great on Friday – I finally made a significant loss of 2.6 pounds in one week. I was starting to get very frustrated by the minuscule losses. Then, of course, we went out of town for two days, and it’s very hard to eat out without blowing the program. I managed to do pretty well, though, and have plenty of points left to celebrate Valentine’s Day dinner at Alessandro’s ;-}

We got out to Newport Friday night around 10 p.m. The drive was fine, mostly dry, until we got over to Newport. When we woke up Saturday morning, though, there was some sunshine, and even though it clouded up over the course of the day, it never rained. Unfortunately, we hit the high tide wrong, so instead of going to the beach that day, we went out to the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse. We wandered through the museum, and climbed to the top of the tower. The ocean is rocky right around Yaquina Head, and with the tide in, very dramatic. That evening we played games, just having the opportunity to enjoy each others’ company without all the pressures of being home and having to deal with ‘stuff’.

Sunday we checked out and headed up the coast. We stopped for a brief stroll at Agate Beach, which, contrary to its name, had no agates that I could find, although there were some very good whole shells. Then we continued on to Lincoln City, where we stopped to visit with my Aunt Pat and Uncle Dick (and Carleton the Westie). We went to lunch at Mo’s down in Taft, which is the original restaurant – I hadn’t been there in many, many years. It was nice to catch up on family news, and see the addition on the house – they have a great view of the ocean from the new room upstairs, and it’s very cozy. Traffic home on Highways 18 and 99W was surprisingly sparse, so it only took a little more than 2 hours.

Robin enjoyed his stay with Sharon, Gary, and Jasmine. Since he wasn’t able to go to the beach, at least he got to go somewhere where they really understand him! April and Jeremy were right at the door waiting when we got home, and pretended they didn’t care that we were gone. Except that April is following Brian everywhere this evening . . .

Thank you to everyone who has made a donation or signed up so far for the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk – your support for the team and me personally is greatly appreciated. More importantly, I appreciate all the moral support that everyone has been so generous with in the last few months, and I depend on it to help me get through the next surgery and recovery period. Hopefully, there will be leftover support for those who have to deal with my newly menopausal self.

Well, now that I’m home, I have to deal with ‘stuff’, like getting to bed at a reasonable hour and making sure I have enough coffee for tomorrow. All the best to you all,

Julie

02
Feb
08

February 2, 2008

Happy Groundhog Day!

We’re not the least surprised here in Portland to know that P. Phil saw his shadow – the clouds, wind, and rain definitely look as if they’re here to stay. It’s actually rather comforting weather for me, as it reminds me of all the road trips that we took when I was a child – driving in the rain in Oregon seems natural because we did it so often. My one regret about the cold and rain is that I haven’t been able to drive with my convertible top down since before my surgery last year.

Next weekend we’re traveling to Newport for a couple nights, because I really want to get out of the house – this will be my first excursion away from Portland since early September. Between surgery, chemo, work, and facing another surgery, if we don’t go now, it’ll probably be late April or more likely May before we’re able to get away. Robin isn’t able to come, although he would love it, since he loves the beach; but he gets to stay with his friend Jasmine, so he may not even notice we’re gone.

Some of my coworkers have done a really wonderful thing – the American Cancer Society holds a walk every year to raise money for breast cancer research. Jenny, along with Lynnette and Shi-Yi, decided to set up a team in my name, called “Supporting Julie”. It is impossible to describe in words how honored and touched I feel. The Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk is on May 10, 2008, starting at 9:00 a.m., but the starting location is not determined yet. For anyone who is interested in joining the team to walk with us, or in making a donation in our team’s name, follow this link: SupportingJulie. If you want more information about Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, here is a link to the main page: Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. I will be walking in memory of mom, and in honor of my aunt, two of my cousins, and a friend.

My surgery date has now been confirmed – it*is* going to be February 29th, at 7:30 a.m. That means that I have to be at the hospital at 5:30 a.m. – since I’m going to be asleep most of the day, it won’t matter much to me, but poor Brian! The nice thing for me is that my previous surgery was scheduled for 2:00 p.m., and I couldn’t eat or drink after midnight – for this surgery, the cut-off is still midnight, so I don’t have to suffer through all those hours of thirst and hunger. The surgery(s) are expected to take up to 5 hours between them, and then, of course, it’s usually an hour or more in recovery before they take you up to a room. So for me, the day will be pretty short; Brian’s day is going to be pretty long.

Tonight we’re going out to dinner with some friends, so I have the challenge of being able to find something to eat that won’t totally gobble up all my points for the week. I’ve had a light breakfast and lunch, so I should be able to splurge a little bit – it’s the point where I have to make the responsible decision of ordering something sensible rather than a burger and fries; or fish and chips; or the creamy, cheesy, most fat-laden dish on the menu that is the hard part. Especially in this weather, hot food rather than a salad seems necessary, so I have to try to come up with something grilled or baked. We’re going to the Cornelius Pass Roadhouse (a McMenamin’s pub), so that seems pretty unlikely. Also, I will need to restrain myself from my usual pint of Ruby mixed with hard cider that goes down so well. Or maybe I’ll just have that and skip the meal altogether ;-} Well, not really, but having one might make the idea of a salad much more palatable. . . My weigh-in this week was disappointing, but at least my weight went down, even if only by a fraction of a pound. I don’t want to blow it now, when surely, by following the plan religiously, sooner or later it will start showing. I’ve tried very hard to account for everything I eat, and make overestimates of how much I take in situations where I can’t measure it exactly. I try to comfort myself with the thought that working out in physical therapy is building muscle tissue, which weighs more than the fat. I try not to use up my Activity points, although I definitely did this week, between work’s Winter Party and the beading group night.

My next beading group night is the night before my surgery – I definitely plan on going, because it is now a tradition that I go to some sort of crafting group or class the night before surgery. Last time, it was a quilting class. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to continue the class due to recovery taking longer than I expected. So I planned on taking the class this spring when it was offered again. Guess what? The first session of the class is the week after I have my latest surgery. If I were paranoid, I’d say it was a conspiracy to stop me from taking the class – Brian, did you call the teacher and bribe her into moving it?

I’ve been reading a lot this winter. Mostly I’ve been in the mood for light stuff, so I’ve been re-reading the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. I also have read a lot of The Sandman by Neil Gaiman – not that it is light reading at all, but it is very compelling, and an incredible graphic novel series (comic books for adults). Even with getting back to work, I’ve been reading a lot – historically my average is about 13 books per month, and I read 21 books in January.

BTW, I haven’t noticed any hair growing yet. They say it takes 4 – 6 weeks for hair growth to restart after chemo, and it has now been 5 weeks. I still have the usual crop of stubble, but it’s not getting any longer, nor is it filling in areas where there hasn’t been any hair. I keep meaning to get some pictures of me bald, and we just haven’t done it. Maybe today.

Julie

27
Jan
08

January 27, 2008

Last week was my second week of being back to work in the office. I’m up to 32 hours per week already, and still feeling pretty tired at the end of the day; but as long as I get to bed early enough, I seem to have enough energy to get me through the day. I have been spending this weekend recuperating, preparing for next week. I do have to go grocery shopping today, but I’m more worried about road conditions than my energy level at this point.

After last week’s supercold weather (well, for Portland, anyway), we’re still having cold weather, but now it’s raining instead of clear. That means that we’ve got icy roads to contend with. Unfortunately, because I wasn’t driving last fall, I didn’t buy studded tires for my Mini. Hopefully it’ll be far enough above freezing when I go out this afternoon that the well-traveled roads won’t still be icy.

I haven’t heard back from the surgery scheduler yet, so still don’t have a date for my next surgery. I would like to think they would have called me if there were some problem with scheduling it for the 29th of February as we discussed, but based on the previous failure to get started in a timely manner, I don’t hold a lot of hope for that. I will call on Monday to see what I can find out, and if necessary light a fire, as it were.

It’s weird to think that after the surgery I will wake up in menopause. How long does it take one’s body to realize that it’s not producing estrogen any more, and start reacting? The normal process typically approaches menopause slowly and women start to have symptoms a little at a time (of course, everyone is different, but presumably the average is accrual of symptoms over time). From a little bit of web research, it sounds as if the symptoms hit quickly and harder than they do when going through natural menopause. I can hardly wait. . .

It has been four weeks as of Friday since my last chemo session, and I think I’m finally starting to see (well, at this point, it’s not visible, so “feel” is probably a more appropriate verb) some hair growing on my scalp. Lucky me, I get to go through the Velcro stage again! I’ve been wearing hats and scarves constantly, unlike earlier in the process when it was warm enough to go bare-headed. Even the wig is not warm enough, at least not when I’m outdoors. The inside of the wig is a sort of netted mesh, which is no doubt pleasant enough during the warm weather, and keeps one from sweating underneath it; but in the cold, it just feels like it’s got a draft.

As I’ve waded through this breast cancer journey, with little stops at the roadside attractions of pulmonary embolism and emotional rollercoaster, I’ve come to realize that I really have a strong desire and will to live. Unfortunately, I haven’t taken very good care of my body the last 10 years or so. I used to be a lot more active, and kept my weight down without trying very hard. My current weight and activity level leaves me open to all sorts of dread diseases, such as diabetes, blood clots, heart disease, and cancer, just to name the most common ones. While I was going through chemotherapy, the doctor was insistent that chemo is not to be used as a weight-loss program (this wasn’t likely to be a problem with me, since the whole idea of bulimia as a way of controlling weight grosses me out). At my last chemo session, I asked the doctor when I could start losing weight – after warning me off of “weird diets”, he said “two weeks after the last chemo”. So I joined Weight Watchers two weeks ago. So far, I haven’t seen a lot of downwards action on the scale, but following the plan is a lot easier than it was previously (I had been on Weight Watchers in the late ’90s, and although I lost some weight, sticking to the plan was difficult, mostly because of attitude on my part). Perhaps because of the fear of mortality hitting me, my motivation is very high at this point.

My bigger struggle now is becoming more active. Most of my pleasures are sedentary – reading, knitting, beading, quilting, gaming. I’m not your typical couch potato, in that I don’t watch TV (we pretty much only watch DVDs, and that only occasionally – we canceled the cable service at the end of December because once I could focus on reading again after the surgery, I never turned the TV on). Instead, I’m a “craft potato”. My physical therapy is helping, but I have to force myself to make time at home to do my stretches and exercises. Taking the dog for walks is usually easier to do, although the recent cold and icy weather has made it both less appealing and more dangerous (for humans, at least – between having four legs and natural traction from his toenails, Robin does pretty well on slick pavement). Last week, we took him over to the training arena and started working him on the agility equipment again – Brian is working for a client today, and I can’t manage the equipment on my own, or I would take him today, also. If the pavement isn’t too icy this afternoon, I’m going to take him for a walk.

So life for now is getting back into a routine – approaching normal, I would say. Normal is good.




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