Thursday, August 25, 2011
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Friday, January 8, 2010
So 2009 marks the end of all my cancer treatments. No drugs, no more surgeries. When I left the Women's Surgical Oncology Clinic after my oopherectomy follow up appointment, I realized I will never have a reason to go there again - hopefully. It was weird to leave. I have been going to that clinic annually for the last 20 years! I found a dimple in one of my breasts when I was 27 years old (a sign of breast cancer) and have had annual mammograms and exams ever since. Because my sister had already had breast cancer, I was considered high risk and monitored closely. Twenty years is a long time. Leaving the clinic felt like such a momentous occasion. I will still have follow up appointments with the medical oncologist (the chemo doc) for a couple more years, but other than that, I am done with treatments.
I AM DONE! Did you get that??
It has been a long 22 months. Two biopses, four surgeries, six rounds of chemo, six nights in the hospital, a positive gene mutation test, and lord knows how many hours sitting in the waiting room. (If there is truly a place called Hell - I'm certain it looks like a UAMS waiting room!)
You try to move on and put it all behind you, but I have to admit it's hard sometimes. I still feel anxious and worried about a recurrence. I'm still adjusting to the permanent changes in my body. I'm still depressed about the state of my hair. I still mourn the loss of my real breasts.
They say your emotional recovery takes as long as your period of treatment. Heavens! I hope it doesn't take that long! Well, no matter how long it takes, at least I know I'm on the road to recovery.
Let the journey begin.
Friday, December 11, 2009
As always, I had great difficulty waking up from the surgey. I was really cranky this time and the recovery nurse was really irritating me. Apparently my pulse-ox was low so they insisted I wear an oxygen mask - which was making my nose itch like crazy! There was a pulse-ox monitor on my right pointer finger and every time I tried to scratch my nose I knocked it off. Apparently I was falling back asleep with my finger still ON my nose which also meant I was knocking off the oxygen mask. All of these actions really upset the nurse. After fighting with me for awhile, she finally put the pulse-ox monitor on my toe and replaced the mask with a nasal tube. I was finally free to scratch my nose at will! Why didn't we do that sooner?
There was also a blood pressure cuff on my right arm, an IV in my hand, and those blow-up leg cuffs on my calves that are supposed to prevent blood clots. I felt tied down and annoyed by all of the equipment and yet they were trying to wake me up to go home. In my mind, I'm thinking, "If I still need oxygen and need to be monitored, why are you trying to wake me up and get me out of bed?"
Also, every time I sat up I got dizzy and then nauseous. I wound up having the dry heaves which is a horrible and strange feeling. I was puking - but nothing was coming out! (Ugh. Shuddering just to think about it.) I finally cleared my head barely enough to put on some clothes and go home. I had expected to spend the night in the hospital, so even though I felt rushed it was nice to go home. When you can't remember the car ride home, do you think it means you should have slept a little longer?
As I said before, I had no pain from the incisions, but right before we left, I told the doctor I was having some pain in my shoulder. It felt like I had a big air bubble in my chest. He said not to worry that it was probably just a sore shoulder from lying on the operating table in one position for such a long time. I knew that wasn't right but I was too doped up to pursue it further. In the following days, the pain spread to both shoulders and became pretty intense - it was a stabbing pain. I was afraid I was having a heart attack or something!
I vaguely remembered something about shoulder pain and laproscopic surgery so I Googled it in the middle of the night. Sure enough, it is a prevelant side effect that no one bothered to mention to me. You see, they pump up your abdomen with gas in order to create a better visual field for the cameras. Turns out, the gas is cold and dry and irritates your diaphragm. And there are nerves that run from your diaphragm into your shoulder - so it is a referential pain. For some people, the shoulder pain is worse than the incisions and that was certainly true for me! I couldn't take a deep breath because the pain was too intense. It left me feeling short of breath and a little scared. I wish someone had warned me. Fortunately it only lasted 2 days
Everything else has healed just fine. And here is the strangest part of all - NO HOT FLASHES! It has been three weeks since the surgery and I'm not having any hot flashes! How is this possible? I experienced extreme hot flashes and night sweats during chemo, but a few months after the chemo stopped, they went away. I assumed my ovaries had started back up and everything was functioning normally again. I couldn't tell for sure since I don't have a utereus and therefore no periods. But maybe I was wrong - maybe the ovaries were dead and I just had an easy run of the menopausal symptoms????
I was in such dread of those night sweats again. Is it possible that I'm going to escape that torture? I definitely felt weepy a few days, my sleep has been disturbed, and I know I am a irritable. If I can escape the hot flashes and night sweats, I will be forever grateful.
The surgery was easy, and I feel mostly recovered. But I'm sitting here anxiously - waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
I like my hormones. I got a small taste of life without them during "chemopause" and I didn't like it. It's true that the hormones would be leaving me in the next couple of years anyway, but I would have preferred a gentle slide into menopause versus a hard smack in the face. I'm one of those people that likes to slowly work my way into a cold swimming pool instead of diving in head first. Tomorrow's surgery will be a big dive.
I'm not worried about the actual surgery. In fact, it's kind of funny how non-chalant I feel about the procedure. This is surgery number 4 in the period of 18 months; I'm an old hand at this now. I've had a c-section and my uterus removed years ago so I know what to exect as far as pain goes. This surgery is laproscopic so it shouldn't be nearly as bad. But life without estrogen.... that's another thing all together.
I suppose I shall survive this too.
I was visiting Atlanta a few weeks back and a group of friends and I were walking in the downtown area afer dinner one night. There were many homeless people in the streets and there were people sleeping on the sidewalk. Little Rock has its share of homeless people but we have enough "green space" around that they seem to stay more hidden. I don't have a great deal of exposure to the homeless. Seeing a grown man sleeping on the sidewalk broke my heart. So really - what do I have to complain about? Losing my ovaries won't be all fun but at least I have a home, a job, plenty to eat, and friends and family that love me.
Well, let the hot flashes begin.
Friday, September 4, 2009
Can it really be a whole year?
It doesn't feel as if it was that long ago. The feeling is still fresh in my mind and I'm still struggling to grow hair! I guess it has taken me awhile to truly recover. Plus - I've had two surgeries during the last year. One more surgery to go.... but I just wanted to acknowledge how far I've come.
Whew. I'm glad the chemo part is all behind me. What a drag. Remember my chemo mantra borrowed from Muhamed Ali?
"Suffer now and live the rest of your life like a champion."
Well, I'm feeling like a champion tonight!
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Since the exchange surgery, I have been having some memory issues. I'm having trouble recalling words sometimes and one day I couldn't remember the name of my favorite restaurant. I have trouble recalling recent activities and do that thing where I walk into a room and can't remember what I came to do. I miss a lot of turns while driving. I know all of you will say you do the same things, but this isn't your everyday forgetfulness... it's different. It is a deeper blankness than I've ever felt before. I simply can not remember. I'm not sure if it's due to all the anesthesia or a delayed chemo side effect. Lots of people talk about "chemo brain" and say that it can develop well after the treatments are done. There is even research now that validates the phenomena. I wouldn't say I am impaired - but I definitely feel the difference.
The oophorectomy (ovary removal) is still hanging over my head. I am dragging my feet and dreading the menopausal symptoms that will accompany it. I experienced "chemopause" during the chemo treatments and had severe hot flashes. I felt out of control and claustrophobic in my own body. It's those drenching sweats in the middle of the night that are most disturbing. I don't get it - why does my body overheat more so when I'm lying down than when I'm up and moving around? Sigh. I need to schedule an appointment and get it done.
The rest of life is busy. We went on a trip to Destin, Florida this summer and had a nice time. I got sun burnt trying to make up for the loss of all sun last summer! But in truth, it felt good. It made me feel alive and healthy and the opposite of a cancer patient.
Eli is back in school and we are reluctantly letting go of our summer hours and embracing the school schedule. And I am taking a class at UALR! It is fun and strange, all at the same time, to be back on a college campus. I am also chairing an event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our sailing club which is consuming a great deal of my time at the moment. It feels good to be doing more things.
In light of all the health care debate, I am once again reminded of how lucky I am to have such good medical care available to me. Not only am I alive and healthy, but I was able to receive some damn good plastic surgery that makes me look and feel normal. What a gift for me!
Now that the majority of my "crisis" is over, I feel less compelled to post here. So if you don't see anything for awhile rest assured - no news is goods news!
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
The exchange is done and I have softer foobs! I didn’t feel immediate relief from those rock-hard expanders, but now that the swelling and tenderness is down, I can really feel a difference. Ahhhhh…. It feels so nice. It’s like taking off a pair of tight shoes at the end of a long day. Relief.
The hours leading up to my surgery were a little hectic. We left Eli at my mom’s house Sunday night as we had to be at the hospital at 5:45 a.m. Monday morning. Around midnight Eli called home crying in pain. He had a terrible ear ache - the result of swimming in lake water for a whole week at camp. Ben got dressed and took the poor boy some medicine and a pain killer to help him sleep. No sooner than Ben got home, his beeper started going off. Turns out he was on call that night. Two more pages came through meaning there was very little sleep between the hours of midnight and 5:00 a.m. Lucky for me (I guess you call it lucky), I got to be sedated and take a looong nap. Poor Ben had to struggle through the next 10 hours or so with heavy eyes.
The surgery was smooth with no problems. I had a little nausea when I woke up, but not too bad. For whatever reason, I had a harder time waking up from the anesthesia. I kept asking the same questions over and over again. As soon as I would ask the question, I knew I was repeating myself. None the less - I could not remember any of the answers! It was an odd feeling. (I wonder if that’s what it’s like to have Alzheimer’s disease??) Anyway, Ben and the nurse were trying to get me to sit up and put on my clothes yet I could barely open my eyes. I really felt like they were rushing me, but they both felt it was time for me to go! At one point, they pulled the pretty blue curtains all the way around my bed so I could get dressed in privacy. I got wildly dizzy and felt like I was swimming in a sea of blue! There was nothing specific for me to focus on and I really couldn’t tell which way was up! My whole upper body swirled around in circles searching for the center of my gravity. They had to open the curtains and let me sit for a few more minutes in order to get my bearings.
They wheeled me to the car with one eye open and gently shoved me in. I’m sure my head bopped all over the place during the car ride home because I couldn’t stay awake more than 2 minutes at a time! I slept comfortably on the couch the rest of the day and even slept there through the night. I was comfortable, so why move?
I can’t really remember the beginning of Tuesday morning, but as the day wore on, I became very aware of my fever - 101.5 to be exact. The pain in my breasts was mild, but the fever made me feel awful. It was reminiscent of chemo days - blah! My discharge instructions said to call if I had fever over 101, but I was reluctant. I had the same fever after my mastectomy and it left after 24 hours. I was pretty sure this fever was my body’s reaction to the trauma of surgery and not a sign of infection. I was afraid if I called the doctor, he would needlessly admit me to the hospital for iv antibiotics – and I certainly didn’t want to go there! Sure enough, around 5:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, the fever broke. It was a miserable 24 hours but I’m glad I waited it out.
Thursday morning I saw the doctor and got to take the bandages off. There was a slight problem with my incisions. They were inflamed and the skin around them was blistered. Turns out, I am officially allergic to Derma Bond – the glue they use on your skin during surgery. The doctor said in his 8 years of using Derma Bond in almost every surgery, I am only the 3rd person to exhibit an allergy! They had to peel the Derma Bond off my skin (think of peeling off super glue stuck to your skin) which left some raw areas on my breast (no problem – I can’t feel). I am having to change the bandages every day and put an antibiotic gauze (Xeroform) over the blistered areas. They are already looking much better and I anticipate they will heal without additional scarring.
I went back to work this past Monday. Too sore to feel great – not sore enough to sit at home. I am fine; I just tire quickly. I took a 2 hour nap after work yesterday and still slept 8 hours that night! It takes a lot of energy to heal.
So how do I feel about my softer foobs? It’s hard to say. Yes – they feel MUCH softer and easier to tolerate. They are very even in size and shape, but one nipple is lower than the other and that kinda bothers me. And there is a bit of a dimple on the outside of the left breast. They are nice but…. well, they just aren’t what mother nature gave me and I’m not used to them yet. When I look in the mirror I don’t recognize my body. Over time, I will probably grow more comfortable with them. Right now, we are still getting to know one another. I had just grown accustomed to their overly perky profile. Now my eyes need to adjust to this more natural shape.
Like most humans, I don’t embrace change very easily. I like to think of myself as an easy-going, flexible individual. Truth is, I have a hard time dealing with most change. In fact, I am probably too complacent with the status quo and linger in places way beyond my time to be there. I think it is the Tao Te Ching that says, “Cling to nothing for nothing is constant.”
Guess the foobs are giving me a chance to work on that ;)
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Afer writing my last cranky post, I decided that part of the reason I was so uncomfortable is that I had over-expanded my breasts. The surgeon had been reluctant to add the last expansion injection, but I pressed him. Turns out he was right; I went too far. I could feel my breasts under my arms and I was beginning to have compromised chest strength. I went back to the surgeon and had him withdraw some saline and I immediately felt better. I am much more comfortable now. I even raced a sailboat this past weekend and my chest didn’t hinder or bother me.
Isn’t it funny that I can add or subtract saline until I find the size that’s right for me? Wouldn’t it be fun if I could change them on a daily basis based on my mood? Double D for a trip to the beach or maybe a small A cup for a dainty camisole… it’s an amusing idea to ponder.