Saturday, November 24, 2012

Getting On With My Life

Wow.  I haven't posted for a long time.  You're welcome.  Busy season at work and changing back to my regular hours has found me pretty dang tired by the time I get home.  Too tired to type?  OK, that sounds pretty lame, but I honestly get home and do next to nothing.

Last weekend, I decided I wanted to go to St. Louis to see my aunt Charlene and her husband Pat.  The last time we were there, we said we'd do it more often because it didn't take long to get there.  That was 2 years ago.  I told Kevin that I wasn't going to do that anymore.  A year of facing  your own mortality will make a person stop planning and start doing.  It was a fun trip, although far too short.  We're already talking about what we'll do the next time we go.

I found the suspicious lump in January and had a biopsy in February.  I was diagnosed in March and had surgery in April.  I got back to work in June.  I finished chemo on September 19th and finished radiation on November 14th.  I have follow up appointments happening now, but that's about it until the exchange surgery, which will be late May or early June.  I should be super excited that I'm completing treatment, and I am happy, but I'm constantly unsettled.

I think that treatment kept me occupied.  I was doing something.  I was actively fighting cancer.  Somehow it isn't as easy as it should be to accept, "OK.  You're all better.  Go on with your regularly scheduled life now."  Your brain doesn't work like that.  I want to ask, "So that's it?" but then again, I don't want to ask that at all.

My hair is finally growing back.  It's not as long as a crew cut yet, but it's moved from "fuzz" to "hair."  LOL  The gray is a lot easier to see right now, but that's what hair color is for.  I'm just looking forward to the day that I have to "fix my hair" to go somewhere.  Silly but true.

I know some people see a therapist after cancer treatment.  I've never considered myself the type to see someone like that, but I see why some do.  I'm not even saying that I won't.  I just haven't decided yet.  I'm fine most of the time, but not all the time.  I know I'll never be the same as before, but I'd like to get past the anxiety issues that sneak up on me at inopportune times.

It makes me VERY thankful for my Facebook group of friends who have gone through this with me.  We are small enough to have gotten to know each other, but big enough that someone is on pretty much 24/7.  If I can't sleep and it's 2 am and I feel the need to chat, someone is there.  Someone to listen to me whine, or laugh at my jokes, or commiserate about the state of our skin after radiation.  So far, that's all the therapy I need.

Overall, I am fine.  I have been cancer-free since surgery in April.  The chemo and radiation were both "just in case."  That is a lot of ammo to go through just because there "might be a burglar out there somewhere," but it's what was advised, so that's what I did.  And I'm fine.  2012 is a year that I'll be glad to put behind me, but I got through it.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

I've Been Deported

What an eventful day!  I went to work for an hour and a half, and then headed to radiation.  This was the first of five boosts.  The boosts are going to be MUCH quicker than the regular radiation.  They just do one blast to a concentrated area, instead of 6 blasts to various parts of my skin, chest wall, etc.  Today was the lining-up day, and starting tomorrow, it will go quickly.

After that I drove around to the other side of the same hospital to get my port removed.  I was so excited!  I'm not sure why, but I think it's because it's just one more step toward being done.  I got parked, in to the office, and checked in a full 10 minutes early.  I was ready to get this show on the road!

The nurse took me in and took my vitals, and then told me to undress from the waist up and put on a gown.  I couldn't wait.  When she came back, the Dr. was following her, as was his medical student shadow.  He started talking to the student about the fact that I was in active radiation, and they usually don't get to see patients until six months after.  Then he asked if they could see the radiation site because he rarely gets to.  Umm, sure!  Why not?  They talked as they viewed my raw skin.  Come on, guys.  Let's yank this port!

Finally, they were ready.  The nurse placed a special pad on my lower abdomen.  It was to ground me so the equipment wouldn't shock me.  Very interesting.  After that, the surgeon (I really like this guy) started disinfecting and then numbing the skin.  It was time to start!  He warned me that I'd feel a bit of pressure, and I could tell that he was slicing into me.  This was getting interesting!

As he was cutting, I said, "So...are there any rules against you giving the port to me?  I mean, can I have it?" He thought for a minute and then said, "Well, you paid for it.  Sure you can have it."  I got 17 kinds of excited!  I have friends and workmates who thought I wouldn't ask, and now I'd asked.  Not only that, he said YES!

As I was reveling in the fact that I was going to leave with port in hand, I noticed smoke rising from my chest, and I could smell burned flesh.  Umm.  Weird.  "Is that normal?" I asked.  He assured me that it was.  I then lamented, "That makes me want bacon."  By now, the whole room was laughing with me.  I love it when an act comes together.

At one point during the procedure, the surgeon said, "Wow.  This one is in there deep.  I did a really good job with this."  LOL  That made me giggle.  He was admiring his work, even as he dug it out of the scar tissue that had formed around it.  Funny stuff.  If it was so deep, that might explain why it didn't bother me, and some people complain about theirs.

Finally, it was done.  He had stitched me up, leaving only a 1 1/2" scar:

I think his stitching job was amazing.  I can only see the knot at the left side of this picture.  It will soon dissolve.  He cut along the same scar that was created when he placed the port to begin with.  The nurse offered to clean up the port for me so I could take it with me.  Sweet!  She brought it back wrapped in a towel and placed in a bio-hazard bag.  Awesome!  It sat on my desk all day:

I went back to work, grinning all the way.  I had forgotten how nice it was to visit with a doctor that I like.  I like all but one, but the one bad apple is the one that I'm forced to see once a week right now.  Seeing the wonderful Dr. Shook was SO refreshing.  I couldn't wait to tell my coworkers that I had my port with me!  In fact, I called a couple of them on the way to work!

Why did I want it?  I have several reasons.  I am weird.  They said I wouldn't ask.  I am weird.  It made me feel brave to ask.  I'm weird.  I want to freak people out with it.  I'm weird.  The nurse asked if I wanted her to cut off the catheter part (that went into my vein) and I said, "NO! Why?  I paid for the whole thing!"  She laughed and left it in tact.

I think I'll make a Christmas ornament out of it.  After Christmas, I'll fashion it into something that can hang from my rear view mirror.  What an awesome conversation piece that will be!  Yup.  It was part of my body for seven months.  I'm not going to just toss it aside.  Maybe I'll make a necklace out of it.   Wanna see it?  Do you?  OK, here goes:

See?  That's not gross!  The circle in the middle of the purple part is where they stuck the needle for blood draws and for chemo. It can be pierced over and over and over.  Such a cool little invention.  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I'm Being Deported

Tomorrow morning, I'm going to have my port removed.  I know that I've been done with chemo for a while, but having that removed kind of makes it official in my head.  I'm looking for all of the milestones I can find, and this is a biggie for me.

Also, as of today, I only have five more radiation treatments left, and they are boosts.  Boosts are higher doses, but to a smaller, more concentrated area.  The highest chance of my cancer coming back is for it to come back in the skin around the scar where the mastectomy was done.  These last five will concentrate on that area.  That means that the rest of the skin can heal.  I am SO ready to be done holding my left arm out away from my body and adjusting my bra, trying to find a few seconds of relief.

I'm also all done (emotionally) with that office/Dr.  That's all I'm going to say about that for now.  

Two months from now, I'll have a follow-up with the plastic surgeon to assess the damage to my skin and tissue.  I plan to have NO damage by then.  Yup.  That's my plan.  Four months after that, I'll have the exchange surgery.  No, not THAT kind of change surgery.  It's the one where they exchange the tissue expander for an implant, and do the surgery to the other side for symmetry.

Ahh, symmetry.  How I miss symmetry. 

Yup, the milestones are ticking by.  I wonder when I'll feel like this is over?  After radiation?  Nah.  Still daily reminders as I'm getting dressed. When my hair has grown enough to not require a head covering? After exchange surgery?  Maybe, but how long after?  When the scars have healed?  

I just can't wait to go an entire day without the C word entering my head.  I have a feeling it will be a long time before that happens, but I'm heading in that direction. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Online Relationships

I have a lot of support from my family, coworkers and friends.  Still, when I found some breast cancer message boards while doing research (right after diagnosis,) I started growing close to the members there.  I'd never met them, and will likely never get the chance to meet most of them, but there was something I needed there.  These people were going through the EXACT same thing that I was going through.

They would ask questions that I had in my mind but hadn't verbalized.  They would answer my questions with the hours and hours of research they had done before me.  They would lift me up when I was down and just listen when that was what I needed.  I got to "know" them.  I grew to love them.

Someone in that group decided to start a group on Facebook.  That group grew even closer.  They understand the parts of this that nobody else could understand, unless they'd been through it.  We share pictures of scars and of newly growing eyebrows.  We share stories of wigs and prosthetic breasts.  We laugh, we cry, and we make inappropriate jokes.

Yup.  This is a new group of friends that mean the world to me.  I love them all, and I'm thankful for the internet for bringing them into my life.  I've had a rough couple of days lately, and spending a lazy 3 hours online "visiting" with them this morning just makes me smile.  Thanks, girls!