HUMAN AGAIN

It’s been awhile since I wrote anything here. It was easier to find things to post about  while going through my cancer and radiation treatments. After that, nothing really seemed worth writing down. I was still recuperating emotionally, I suppose, and feeling a need to have some space to myself. Even if that space was just in my head. But I think I’ve turned a corner. About six weeks ago, I opened the door to my closet and nearly curled up into a sad little ball. This was not the normal  “I have nothing to wear” freak out; this was “If I have to put any of this on one more time – I’m going to step in front of a bus.”

My post surgery and radiation wardrobe consisted of leggings and tunic tops. Loose items that allowed me to avoid irritation of my radiation burns and lymph node scars. But suddenly, staring into my closet, I realized I was approaching the year anniversary of my stand off with cancer and I was tired of dressing like a withered, shapeless blob.

So, I reached into the part of my closet I hadn’t touched in a year and pulled out an actual dress. Stepping in front of the full length mirror before leaving for work, I felt a tiny bit like my old self.

The next day, I shoved the tunics aside again and grabbed another dress, praying it would fit. Somehow, it did. I’ve gained a little bit of weight over the past year. Talk about adding insult to injury… Stupid cancer. Anyway, I told Robert what was happening in my head, (which we usually try to avoid), and he instantly suggested I burn the tunics. Guess he was tired of them too.

Now, I’m on a mission. I’ve signed up for Stitch Fix and have a wonderful stylist who is nailing it every time. (Thanks, Nikki!)  I’ve also received a couple of “bento boxes” from MM LaFleur. It appears I’m building a new wardrobe for the new me. (The new me hates actual shopping as much as the old me.)

Yes, I have to acknowledge I’m not the same. The fact it took a year for me to shake off the  funk, or the blues, or the shock and awe of the spring and summer of 2015, is astonishing to me. I didn’t even realize how I’d changed. How my self confidence and self esteem had plummeted. When it started to come back,  I didn’t even recognize it for what it was. Now I see that experimentation with false eyelashes for what it really was. It was ME trying to locate me again. A better me. With longer, thicker lashes, apparently.

The point is, after all these months of isolating, I am happy to report that my new self is sticking her toe into the water to see how normal life feels again.

I must say, it feels pretty good. (Just a little tight around the waist.)

DONE

Well, I’m fast approaching my fourth week out of radiation. Still have some itchy skin, and some bizarre throbbing pain every now and then that I assume is a sign of continued healing. They said the radiation would keep affecting me for 2 weeks after we actually stopped, and it did. However,  I was so anxious to return to a regular schedule, I might have not been as patient as I should have work-wise. As a result, by the end of the week, I’m beat. I keep swearing I’ll sleep all day on the weekend, but I seem to live in a sports bar, with all day college football games on Saturday so that’s not really happening. Even without the sporty-sports, I start getting antsy after 9:00AM and feel as though I’m wasting a perfectly good day.

Currently, everything feels surreal. Each day I hear about something that happened since May or June, when all this started, but I have almost no recollection of it. I feel as though I’ve gone through each day sleepwalking. Hopefully, I’ve been functioning somewhat, anyway. I know I was TRYING.

I have neglected to report an event from two months ago. I just couldn’t address it until now. To add insult to injury, our sweet Daisy doggen became ill suddenly and had to be put to sleep. Cancer strikes again. We STILL haven’t recovered from THAT emotional devastation. Maybe it’s multiplied by Robert’s and my lowered immunity to bad news and almost psychotic need to have SOMETHING be normal at this point.

During that dreadful day, when the chips were down, my friends responded like they’d been waiting for an opportunity to rush to the rescue. “The Duchess” and Tony W came to stay with Gracie, the basset we adopted so she and Daisy could be little old ladies together. So much for that genius plan that lasted all of 8 months. Robert, Austin and I stumbled, bleary-eyed and in a state of shock, into the vet clinic to say goodbye. By the time Daisy drifted to sleep with Robert reassuring her and all our hands on her, I thought none of us would be able to get up off the floor, maybe ever again.

We drove home saying things to try to make each other feel better, but it was a sniffly, teary ride. Austin was so supportive. I wish he hadn’t been home to go through that, but then again, I’m glad he was. Derek was in Missouri, so he didn’t get to say his goodbyes. But if all four of us had been on the floor weeping, it would have simply been too much to bear. By the time we returned home, I thought “the Duchess” had probably pet a hole in Grace, (to comfort her.) So, once in the safety of our living room, there were five of us with red, watery eyes and a dog who was wondering what the heck was wrong with us all and WHERE had we left her “sister.”

As a result of the glorious past… 5 months(??) I get really emotional. Not sure if that’s the medication, or if it’s the experience(s), but I really want to take some time to sit still and figure out what all has transpired. Punch drunk, I guess you’d call it.

Mostly, these days, I’m looking forward to a time when my eyes stop welling up, I’m looking forward to having energy, and I’m looking forward to the END of this year.

I’m hoping this doesn’t sound too negative. I’m also grateful for the support of family, friends, readers and visitors. Also, (most importantly) my Robert has been amazing, and wonderful and has had to deal with a lot of crap. So, if I haven’t said it enough, you rock, mister.

And now, just so we can well up some more…

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Sweet Daisy doing her impression of Rose in the Titanic movie.

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RADIATION REVELATIONS

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Inquiring minds want to know, so: The actual radiation therapy takes around 3 minutes. Not including getting undressed and dressed again. On Mondays, I visit with the doctor who asks how I’m doing and then tells me to keep applying aloe gel. Riveting, right? Those days the appointment lasts maybe 20 minutes tops, the most frightening part of it being when I step on the scale. The longest visits are the ones when we do simulation. We did that at the very beginning and again a little over a week ago.

During the last seven appointments, they focus on the actual tumor bed, so the simulation allows them to take measurements and X-rays to check they are targeting correctly.

In simulation, you lie down on a table with your “damn traitor” boob exposed so they can start turning you into a human connect-the-dots game again. This time there was a fun moment when the tech looked at my breast,then learned in for an even closer look and said, “Wow.”

Not certain if “wow” was good or bad, I squashed my immediate impulse to respond with a sarcastic, “Yes, they’re pretty spectacular, I KNOW.”

As it turns out, they were looking for the incision where the surgeon went in (twice) for the lumpectomies. Potential TMI coming up, so skip to next paragraph if you don’t want to get too personal, or if you are squeamish. The doc went in by making an incision just at the edge of the areola (wince). See, if you use professional language, it’s easier to deal with. Despite two procedures, it is nearly invisible. (As evidenced by the two tech faces bent extremely close to my um, scar area, exclaiming, “Wow. Who was your surgeon? Dr. Ganaraj? She’s amazing.”)

I couldn’t agree more.

Once THAT was established, measurements and X-rays began again. More lines being drawn on. This time with green instead of blue. Then to the CT scan to confirm the alignment. I left with three new clear tape circles covering green Xs and a renewed, unwelcome realization that this is some serious shit.

UPDATE: At this point I’ve had 4 treatments of the tumor bed. They have a special plate that is made just for me – to focus on the tumor bed specifically – as determined by the simulation session. They were telling me that some people end up with plates shaped like the US, or like Texas. (Not exactly the plate but the hole in the plate.) Apparently, in cases of mastectomy, often the hole in the plate is shaped like a penis. (How’s that for adding insult to injury?) We can’t decide what mine is shaped like. The tech said Woodstock’s head. (Snoopy’s buddy.) You decide. This is the view from lying on the table – so what I see.

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Since this awesome fun time is nearly over, I took some other photos too – here is the massive machinery behind the door I never noticed before.

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Here it is in motion.

Crazy, right?

This is the room where you get the treatment. Not like a sterile hospital room, right?  It’s like getting radiation therapy in someone’s sort of messy office.

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Here’s another view of what I see from the table. See the purple light beams in this photo and the one of the plate? Those are what they line my green Xs up with.

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The current phrase that pays is “GOOD-NESS I’m tired.” Seriously, some mornings I think if the bed was on fire I’d just lie there. (Probably thinking it was another hot flash.)

But we’re in the home stretch. Just three more treatments! Until then, zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

HOW MANY ONCOLOGISTS DOES IT TAKE

Well, I disappeared for awhile into the cancer universe. Time flies when you’re having fun!image

To catch up…  After a month of recovery I met with the MEDICAL oncologist and the RADIATION oncologist. The radiation oncologist told me what my surgeon had.  6 weeks of radiation. Following that, according to my MEDICAL oncologist, I start a prescription I get to take for the next 5 years. The medicine removes the last traces of estrogen from my body. Did you know that your body produces estrogen – even if you have no ovaries? Or any other of that pesky girl stuff?? Why didn’t I know that? I must’ve missed that day in health class.  Anyway, the medication will sop up any estrogen being produced, lest it feed another cancer cell or two. (My tumor was estrogen positive.)  I’m not sure what my life will be like with no estrogen at all. Currently, it’s a roller coaster of hot flashes that feel as though I’m about to burst into flames interspersed with some heavy-duty mood swings. So the next 5 years should be AWESOME EXCITING.

When they prep you up for radiation, they do a simulation which involves lying on a table with your boob exposed to EVERYONE. While you lie there with one arm up over your head, they draw on you. There were also calipers involved, and measuring. It took about 45 minutes total. Afterwards, I was asked to stand up and look in the mirror. Imagine my surprise when I found my left side, from breast bone to under my arm, covered in marker.  I looked like those graphics that show which part of the cow each cut of meat comes from. There were two spots – one on my chest and one under my arm where a piece of clear tape covered an X. Those need to stay in place throughout the 6 weeks of radiation.

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Sadly, since my friend just bought a house with a pool, I was told those marker Xs mean no swimming. So much for my plan to swim laps for exercise. I asked about a tattoo so I could proceed with my plans, but was told the marks are better. Apparently, when in a dark room, aiming radiation “lasers” (I don’t know what they’re called) at you, the easier the target is to see, the better. They kind of put the fear of God in you when they say, “What you’re doing here for the next 6 weeks affects the rest of your life. So, you don’t want to take any chances.”

At the end of the third week of radiation, I started feeling pretty tired. On Friday I could barely keep my eyes open. This seems to be right on schedule for side effects according to the experts. The radiation target is also looking pretty red. Like a sunburn. Not a terrible sunburn, but definitely red. There’s occasional shooting pain – from the healing after the lumpectomy, but nothing really from the radiation. The hard part of all this is finding clothing that doesn’t rub against that irritated skin under your arm or on your breast, yet allows you to go to work without having a complaint filed against you with HR. Side boob is frowned upon in most places of work.

The good news is, we’re half way home!  Oh, and the big marker lines are gone now, just the Xs remain. Woot!

 

 

ONCE MORE WITH FEELING

Picking up sort of where I left off with the Breast Case Scenario post.  

I recovered over the weekend from the lumpectomy surgery and by Thursday of the following week, I had the results. There was one little troublesome spot on the edge of the tissue margin – like so close to the edge it could easily have been missed altogether – and it was going to have to come out. While in there, we would need to take some more tissue from several sides to make sure this spot was a loner. I scheduled the second surgery for the next week, and threw myself a couple of pity parties. Or maybe three. The thought of going in for yet another surgery (my third in a couple of months if you count the cardiac ablation), was daunting to say the least. Plus, the underarm incision for the lymph node removal was still so sore I was pretty miserable. Meh.

So, we once again made our way to the surgical center last week. Luckily, this version didn’t require a divining rod in my chest so the whole process was much easier. I was greeted by a couple of familiar faces.  The anesthesiologist paused as he reviewed my paperwork, “Wait. You we here a week and a half ago?” 

  
 
“Yes. I had so much fun I thought we’d do it again! YOLO.” 

They labeled me to make sure they operated on the correct side, and I was totally out cold by the time they wheeled me in around 2:45 and was glued together again and in recovery within the hour. Everything went “splendidly” in doctor-speak. I was once again given a lovely tube top, pink this time, and sent home with an ice pack and a nice hydrocodone prescription. 

  
(A bit droopy from surgery and a lovely pain pill ingested upon awakening. These people don’t fool around.)

I have been taking it pretty easy since. I decided after the recent emotional trauma to listen to the instructions in my cancer binder that says, “pamper yourself.” This is not a terribly familiar concept to me, so I’m trying it on for size. I’m pleased to say I did manage to sleep until 11:30 AM one of those post surgery days. 

I returned to work for a half day today which turned into more of a 7/8 day. 

Pamper. Fail. 

But I did receive good news this afternoon. The tissue removed last week has been decreed ALL CLEAR. We are now ready to talk radiation. That conversation happens Monday. I guess the speed at which all this is moving is good, because there’s less time to focus on it and fret. 

That’s all I know now, so be on the look out for pampering attempts and whatever comes next. 

*  Special thanks to my mother and Aunt Jan who have attempted to corner the market in comfortable, button up blouses. And to my mother-in-law for homemade pimento cheese. 

THE SURGICAL STORY – OR BREAST CASE SCENARIO

I can’t help myself. Dad would have liked that title.

Update: Thursday, in preparation for the lumpectomy on Friday, I returned to the nuclear medicine lab where I’d had the MRI and all that jazz done. They needed to give me some sort of injection. Unfortunately, I Googled what sort of injection I needed before this procedure and as you may have experienced at one time or another, Google scared me silly. There were descriptions of injections (multiple) directly into the “bull’s eye” so to speak, and the declaration that it feels like someone is putting out a cigarette on you. For ten minutes.  By the time I arrived at the lab, I was surprised they couldn’t see my heart beating through my shirt. It was giving my recent cardio ablation a run for its money. I told the nice technician that people were saying terrible things about her on the Internet and she said it was totally untrue. I would get to judge for myself. 

In my case, it was one shot, not four, and while it DID sting quite a bit, it certainly wasn’t torture. Thank goodness. The purpose behind this was to inject another dye that would show the doctor which lymph nodes are the first in the transportation of cells. That way she could remove those for testing while she was doing the lumpectomy. 

The next day we drove through a deluge to the surgical center, where they ushered me into the room where I would receive a wire. This wire would be inserted into the lump with guidance from an ultrasound, then I would be given a mammogram to make certain it was in place. The wire would guide the surgeon to the lump. For some crazy reason I thought the wire would be a tiny, skinny-type wire. Imagine my surprise when I sat up after this procedure and had a TV antennae sticking out of my chest by about 6 inches. It was crazy! They quickly taped it down so I could put on a shirt and make my way to the mammogram machine.  At some point as I stood there with the antenna sticking out again, getting smashed in the mammo contraption I realized it had happened. That moment had come when you are either so sick or so overwhelmed and out of your element that you don’t care if you are shirtless in front of a stranger and have a metal thing sticking out of your chest.  I was a walking dowsing rod. Only instead of water, I would lead you to Chardonnay. 

Everything looked correct on the mammogram, so I was taped down again and walked across the hall to where the actual procedure would take place. I got to change into one of those gorgeous hospital gowns/tarps and prepare to meet the anesthesiologist, surgeon, etc. in the meantime, while Robert sat beside me behaving quite properly, I decided I needed to start a texting group and let my besties know what was happening moment by moment. I will plug that text message in on another post. It’s probably not as enjoyable to you as it was for me, but I want it on the record anyway. 

To cut to the chase, the surgery went great. Lymph nodes look totally normal but she’s sending them in anyway for testing. I should hear about that this week. I was wrapped in yet another fashion forward item – a tube top – and told to wear it for 2 days, if possible. Which I did. Then I gladly removed it.  I slept most of the evening after surgery and then was strangely awake all day Saturday and Sunday. No naps. Monday, I couldn’t get enough sleep. Go figure. 

Okay, ending it here for this report. More to come.

A NEW DIAGNOSIS

“Hi, I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.”

A slow growing, less than 2 cm infiltrating ductal carcinoma. It’s grade 1, so basically as good as it can get for bad news. At this point it looks like the next steps are a lumpectomy and 6 weeks of radiation. So, we’re really almost done with the whole thing. (At least that’s what I’m telling myself.)

This happened really quickly. I was at work about a month and a half ago and suddenly felt a sharp pain in my left upper breast/chest area. I held a hand over it, which is really not a good look for the office, and just muddled through until it stopped hurting. Then it was totally out of site out of mind.  Probably 2 weeks later I was reading in bed and felt another sharp pain in the same location.  Inspecting it more closely, I found…a lump. 

The next day I called my doctor, who got me in for a mammogram the NEXT day. A few days later I was back in, getting a biopsy. (Ouch.) Two days later my doctor’s office called and asked me to come in for the results. Full on panic started then. Never a good sign. It was around this time that shock set in. And a little parking lot car crying may have taken place.

Luckily, I have a great doctor. Surgeons were recommended. Appointments made. It became basically waiting from day to day to find out what was happening next. What was the news? Results? It was so surreal. I could not stop thinking about my friend Leah being diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and dying two years later. Although my initial results looked good, I couldn’t help but think at three in the morning, “What if this is a secondary location? What if I’m riddled with cancer? Is that why my hip hurts? Does that explain my migraines lately? As fast as my doctors were moving, and it was FAST, there was still waiting time, and it felt endless. I started writing the night before the last round of tests. It was 1:30 AM and I’d been trying to sleep for hours. I had an MRI, bone scan and CT scan awaiting me the next day. This was my stream of thought: 

– Tonight I am a little nervous about the MRI and scans tomorrow, but I know in my head that chances are really small that anything will have spread. I SHOULD be worried about my sudden break up with estrogen therapy. My little tumor (to be named later) is estrogen receptive. That means estrogen is no friend of mine, and has to go. Which is funny (not), because without it I am a mess. Within hours of removing the patch, I was unaccountably annoyed. With everything.  Maybe now is the time I should learn to laugh at the small stuff. Small stuff I suck at. Big stuff? I’m a freakin’ rock. Mostly. 

It’s 2 AM now. The hot flashes and monkeys in my head are still at it. I’m waiting. Waiting for the test, biopsy, results, appointment, phone call. Good news. Bad news. Whatever. After the tests tomorrow, I could hear from Dr. G in the afternoon. Or, it might be Friday. It definitely won’t be later than that. And this will tell me if there are any other places they see anything suspicious. So I feel like once I know that, we can move forward. In the meantime, I guess I’ll go with this nervous breakdown/insomnia thing.

So, as I said earlier, the tests were good. Compared to what many women go through, this is a cake walk. I’m almost embarrassed to even call it cancer. I feel there’s an in between something it could be called. But then again, I have the option of lumpectomy or full mastectomy, so that’s just scary. That’s for real, right? Not pleasant  to consider. Life changing. I just keep going back and forth between feeling really lucky and feeling terrible. I haven’t settled on an emotion yet. And maybe I just won’t. 

That ought to be fun for everyone around me. Woohoo! Which way is the wind blowing today?

Side note: when you’re diagnosed with cancer, they give you a 3-ring binder. With tabs. It’s like they realize your mind was just blown and someone has to organize you or you’ll fall apart. Which is probably very true.  For the past 2 weeks, all my test results and doctor stuff was in my purse. Wadded up. Now it’s hole punched. Cancer will motivate you to get your s#!& together.

Well, some of it.  Don’t expect miracles, people. I’m still a hot mess. And I can promise you, no matter what, that will not change. 

Okay, so that’s that.  More to come.