Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Saturday, December 28, 2013
|Molly & Me|
Monday, September 9, 2013
Me & Grand Girl, Molly
Hello campers! It seems I am visiting here now about as often as I do my docs at MDA! Truth is, I'm feeling so much better that, for the most part I consider this whole cancer episode D.O.N.E! The only time I really give it much thought is when I cross the elevator threshold downtown in the Mays building of M. D. Anderson. (OR when I am cursing the effects of my nemesis "savior", Tamoxifen.")
This past summer, my surgery anniversaries came and went: June 28 and July 8. Next month, my third surgery anniversary, Oct. 14, is coming up. Two years and I still have tenderness, soreness sometimes and weird, achy numbness although that is much improved. I need to see the physical therapist soon to be fitted for a lymphedema sleeve. I avoided it early on and since I got conflicting information from my doctors, I chose to believe the one that said it wasn't necessary. Turns out .. it is.
I can honestly say that I didn't feel fully free of the chemo until June of this year. Sure, my hair came back, my toenails stopped turning black and turning loose (only three, not all), my neuropathy improved somewhat, but there was this ongoing feeling of unwellness that stuck much longer than I anticipated. My nurse practictioner said last week that window of time is completely "normal".
Normal - it's all a "new" normal.
It's normal to be anxious prior to any kind of visit now. Now, when all the "bad" stuff is behind me, my heart rate jumps when I'm in a closed room with an exam table, posters of human anatomy and a clean folded gown staring me down. I had my "Well Woman" exam last week at the Cancer Prevention Center at MDA. Because of my required Tamoxifen (which is known to provide an elevated risk of uterine cancer) and my being a DES daughter (a drug given to women in the 50's to prevent miscarriage), my medical team is keeping a close watch on the health of all my girl parts.
Last time, the lining of my uterus was thicker than it should have been, given my new, post-menopausal state. It was apparently cause for alarm and all the bells and whistles went off. Thankfully, all of the other tests came back within normal perameters and the sirens finally stopped blaring. I have every confidence that this test will pass as "healthy" too. I'm not borrowing trouble until it's packed its bag and is knocking on my door.
That doesn't mean I didn't get a little nervous .. and my heart rate was questioned by two nurses and my NP. During the visit it came down from 103 to 92 beats per minute and I explained it away with the long walk in and the Starbucks coffee I downed just before checking in.
So now we wait for the "all clear down below" letter. And we count the days and calculate how many pounds we can legitimately lose (or not gain) until my Oncology visit in November. Bloodwork, bone scan, Mammo and Ultrasound. I'd love to hear my Oncologist say that I can safely stop the Tamoxifen but I doubt she'll cave to my whining about bone aches, ridiculous weight gain (on baked chicken & salad, gimme a break!), cramps all over my body, swelling, pimples, dry skin, (heard enough?). I have three more years to complete the recommended round of five.
Party. November. 2016. Be there.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
|Just one of the wildflowers I've enjoyed this spring|
Friday, February 1, 2013
I think I've had three haircuts at this point,
but I'm trying "grow out". (The things we
do for our HUSBANDS!)
Ashley's 29th Birthday!
Jared's 30th Birthday!
I had checkup appointments in August with my oncologist. The Femara (estrogen blocker) she put me on in May was causing significant issues. My bones ached so badly at night I couldn't sleep and I couldn't walk more than 50 yards without tremendous bone pain. It was just not acceptable. So, even with the risks of Tamoxifen (blood clots, uterine cancer), at least I can have some quality of life while taking it. In an effort to alleviate the swelling issues I was having with Tamoxifen before, she also added spirolactone, another diuretic, to my pharmacological soup.
She said my blood work looked good and I was scheduled for a mammogram and breast ultrasound in November.
Then, in September, my plastic surgeon called and asked me to move up my reconstructive surgery (on my healthy breast to reduce and lift). So, on the 12th of September I had all my pre-op stuff done and had surgery that afternoon. It was the easiest surgery I have ever had in my life. I was in pain upon arrival in recovery and that was my only moment of discomfort. I had one pain pill in the aftermath (for the ride home the next day) .. and that was it. Easy peasy. And, if I do say so myself, my newly renovated boobie is pretty damn cute.
Let me address something here that's very personal. (Geez .. after all I've shared THAT must make you nervous!) Well, here goes. I had a real problem accepting the generosity of reconstructive surgery. After all .. my cancer was gone, and despite my not-so-pretty scarring on the cancer breast, I never, ever expected to have the benefit of making my healthy breast match my now much smaller cancer boobie. Since I am a medicaid patient (and I still have lots of guilt about that), it seemed like an abuse of the system to just "fix" my healthy breast. And when I expressed those concerns to Dr. C., here is what she said:
"We are not just here to remove your cancer. We are here to restore you to a place in time before you knew you had cancer. Your breasts are significantly different now in size and weight and, as you get older, the weight of the right one will cause posture and spine issues. It's better to correct that issue now, as well as give you the added benefit of a better appearance .. which will only add to your quality of life in the years to come as a breast cancer survivor."
I almost cried. I want to add here that if you are a breast cancer patient, do not expect any automatic referrals to reconstructive surgery at any point. It was only via the care and compassion of my oncologist that I was even informed a reduction and lift to my healthy breast was a option. You'd have thought this would have come via my surgeon under whose care I remained from 6.28.11 to 12.21.11. But no.
So if you have a question about possible reconstructive surgery - even on your healthy breast - ASK QUESTIONS of ALL your doctors. Okay, putting away the soapbox now.
My plastic surgeon released me in early December and we were both very happy with the results of her work! Later in December I had my mammogram and ultrasound. It was originally scheduled for November but I wasn't healed enough for all that "attention", so we pushed it back.
Both reports came back clean! My oncologist was happy with everything but my weight. I was still carrying around the 11 lbs. I gained on Femara. And, to be truthful, since my taste buds came back and everything tasted so good, and because I was rewarding myself for being such an awesome survivor, I was eating everything and anything I wanted. Not good.
January 1st I started low carb dieting and to date, I 've lost 7 lbs. If I could get myself on the treadmill a little more faithfully, I'd lose more quickly but my energy level remains low. I have good days and bad days. On a good day I can do pretty much anything I want to. On a bad day, it wears me out to make the bed. I am still short of breath and require lots of breaks in between my chores. It can be discouraging.
So, that's everything that's happened in the last six months. I don't have another doctor appointment until May. Six whole months of NO DOCTORS. I can't tell you how liberating that is. Then, in May, I have to repeat all my bloodwork and have a full ct scan to be sure that the "spots" on my lungs, kidneys, liver and thyroid remain stable.
It seems every week I hear of another family that is being touched by cancer. It's heartbreaking, especially, when the patient is a child. While I am grateful for all that I learned about myself during treatment and for all the love and concern shown to me while I was sick, cancer is a demon. It changes you forever.
Sunday, August 5, 2012
Wow. I can't believe it's been more than two months since I've visited you here. I have to admit that I drag my feet about coming back to the Herschel page because it's an admission that I've been sick. And frankly, I just want to put it all behind me.
My daughter argues that I am so much more than a cancer survivor. That I shouldn't let that experience or label define me. To some degree she is right. But I also know that cancer has also been another harsh life experience that reshapes your perspective, your hopes and all that you hold dear.
As for the biologic responses to it at this stage, there's not a lot going on. My incision continues to heal and, in the process, more and more tension is created pulling me to the left. It's neither pretty or comfortable, but it is what it is. I sometimes wish I'd just cut the damn thing off.
My doctor thought my swelling issues in April and May were due to Tamoxifen, so she changed me to another estrogen blocker, Femara. I also take Lasix every day. If I skip a day, my left leg swells significantly. Who knows why? The removal of 26 lymph nodes surely affects SOMETHING, but I would have thought the swelling response would have been in my left ARM, not my leg.
The Femara has caused me to have joint pain, muscle cramps and hot flashes. But it supposedly doesn't have the threat of blood clot or uterine cancer like Tamoxifen. And, speaking of that, I'm having another uterine biopsy tomorrow. I'd rather take a whipping.
Friends who have had them thought them to be no big deal. For me, it's right up there with the most unpleasant things they've done to me in the last two years. I'm not sure why it hurts so badly, but I plan to take a Vicodin prior to my appointment tomorrow morning so, hopefully, it's not quite as bad as last time.
The rebel side of me thought about cancelling the appointment. After all, there's no symptoms or evidence of uterine cancer. The lining of my uterus was slightly thicker than it should be and, because I am a DES daughter and my chances of gynocological cancers significantly higher than the general population, my medical team is covering all bases. Mostly I am grateful. Some days I wish they would pick on someone else!
My energy level is almost back-to-normal. When I complain of being inadequate and unable to complete everything on my "to do list", Dave reminds me that I am fifty five .. and not everything is the fault of cancer. He also suggests that my "to do list" could do with some reduction. Eh. Whatever.
When I do something like walk all the way through Sam's, help Dave through check out, help load the car and unload it when we're home, put away the groceries and fix dinner, I silently applaud myself remembering last year when I couldn't even make my own sandwich without a chair in the kitchen to catch me when I was about to fall. I feel like a superhero.
I'm not eating as well as I should. Well. Let me rephrase that: I am eating FABULOUSLY. Everything tastes so good and I am so hungry (Damn you, Femara) and, I have to admit, I am rewarding myself for being such an awesome cancer warrior. At some point, like last week, I need to get a grip, lighten up, eat more responsibly and get my large butt back on the treadmill.
My hair is growing like a weed. It's thicker and less gray than before. I still have curls but they are fading. As much as I love me in short hair, I am surrounded by people who love me with long hair. Oh, why do I have to be such a people pleaser??? So I am trying to grow out. It's one awkward stage after another! But I am not complaining. I'm so grateful for hair, eyebrows and eyelashes that I will never ever complain about bad hair days, waxing ouches or crappy mascara EVER again.
So let's address the vanity issue. You might recall that my mother pointed out (at a REALLY bad time) last summer that she didn't raise me to be vain. It's true. All my life I've been told how pretty I was, how outstanding my eyes were. My inner response to this was a) I didn't do anything to look like this, it was just God's grace and good genes. And besides, mama always said, "pretty is as pretty does" so the outward thing was just discounted in my mind. And b) my eyes didn't look any different to me than anyone elses!
I've always wanted to age gracefully. Oh sure, if I had tons of money, I might do some tweaking and fine tuning. But I think some women become a characture of themselves. Some of the "anti-aging" camoflauge isn't really all that effective. So I intend to go with the flow. The thing is .. the past couple of years have turned that flow into class five rapids! My mirror tells me it's been a rough patch, as if I didn't know. So instead of looking for beauty in my mirror, I look for it in the eyes of husband, my children and my grandbabies who love me regardless of the wrinkles, sagging everything and weight gain.
In September I am scheduled for reconstructive surgery. It's a decision that I have wrestled with for months. First, I had to give myself permission to WANT boobs that were the same size and latitude. Truth be told, I'm still working on that. But my oncologist and the plastic surgeon both say it's something I should do both for cosmetic reasons and for the health of my spine and posture. Peach versus grapefruit, in other analogies. As I get older, apparently the disparity between Fred and Ethel could be problematic. So. I get a new, redesigned and realigned right boob in September.
There is some fear which is new to me. For some odd reason, I am never nervous when I have surgery. Never. I doubt it's bravery as much as some sick sense of adventure. I'm fascinated by the whole experience. I wanted to be awake for my second c-section AND I wanted to watch. When I woke up in recovery after the second breast surgery last summer I was saying, "Oh man! I missed the party. I wanted to watch." Yes, weird, I know.
But this time .. not so tickled about those shiny lights and that fun injection into my IV. Having had the MRSA experience, and knowing how rampant it seems to be in hospitals today, it is my chief, primary and biggest concern. I am no longer a "carrier" meaning my last MRSA swab came back clear. It's no longer a part of the flora and fauna that lives in or on me. I'm clean. I want to stay that way. All I can do is pray that this surgical experience doesn't require an additional six months of treatment.
So. That's it. That's what's going on with me. Meanwhile, I have a dear friend battling long and hard with skin cancer. I have another who has been diagnosed with throat cancer and a childhood girlfriend is exactly where I was last summer with breast cancer. A cousin's husband just had surgery for thyroid cancer. One friend's husband, who was diagnosed with liver cancer just prior to my own diagnosis with breast cancer, continues to have chemo treatments but is doing well. These days, it's almost miraculous NOT to have cancer. The good news is that today's treatments are effective but I also put a big premium on prayer. Cancer isn't Charlie Sheen. It's not winning. God is. Woot!
Eat your veggies, take your vitamins and feel your boobies.
(And even though Google thinks David posted this - you and I know it was DARLENE.)
Saturday, June 2, 2012
Friday, May 4, 2012
Monday, April 30, 2012
Monday, April 9, 2012
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
"The only good thing about having this disease is that it links us all together. Complete strangers will weep while reading your words (I know, because I did) and then pray for someone they have never met. It doesn’t matter that we don't know each other. I know the fear, the frustration and weariness you both feel.
My husband so surpassed my expectations, wishes and hopes in supporting me during my treatment. It made me sad to think that he had watched his own mother survive breast cancer for twenty years before she lost HER battle, and now he was having to watch me endure its costs. I imagine some of your wife's anger is because YOU are collateral damage in her fight with this demon. It’s bad enough to watch someone you love have cancer. It’s a whole other ballgame to have cancer and watch the person you love watch back. We can’t live without your love and support and we’d give anything – ANYTHING - to make it all go away.
Keep the faith. And above all else, for what it’s worth, ... you’re not alone."