Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My New Year's Eve Post

This time last year, I was SO happy to put cancer behind me.  All that was left was to get my exchange surgery and let my hair grow back.  What could go wrong?  2013 would be MY year.

Or not.

I did grow hair.  I also had my exchange surgery.  I spent 10 weeks in a sling, trying to get the implant to stay in place.  It failed, though.  The surgeon put another one in, and it failed, too.  Radiation just proved to be too damaging to my tissue.  We gave up and waited a few months so I could heal.

Oh yeah!  I almost forgot!  I also got lymphedema.  Oh joy of joys.  Lots of physical therapy, a compression pump, and a sleeve and glove became a part of my life.  Permanently.  With the lymphedema came cellulitis infections in my arm, and even a couple of stays in the hospital.

I've now had the TRAM flap surgery.  It is healing marvelously.  I'll return to work, probably next week, and get started on 2014.  I'm not going to pin all of my dreams on this being some magical year of no problems.  Every year has problems.  I'm just going to put 2013 behind me, hold my head high, and move on.

Because I'm alive.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

I'm Alive

I've mentioned before that I am in a Facebook group of gals who all went through diagnosis and treatment in 2012.  We were bound by a horrible similarity to a group that we wish we didn't need.  But we DID need each other.  Terribly.

It has been a wonderful blessing, straight from God himself, that I had someone to turn to when some horrible new side-effect of chemo entered my life.  Someone to commiserate with and point me toward a study or article to help cope.  We all brought different strengths and weaknesses and were all exactly the same and drastically different.

The problem with starting such a group is that you're dealing with cancer.  For some, breast cancer means increased scans and watch yourself closely going forward.  For others, breast cancer means that you are dying and should put your affairs in order.

Most of us, however, land somewhere between those two extremes.  We have surgeries, chemo, radiation, and fear.  We shop for hats, try on wigs, learn about prosthetic breasts, and we worry.  We make inappropriate jokes about cancer, baldness, poison, and death.  We don't do this to make others uncomfortable.  We do it to point out that we DO see the elephant in the room.  We do it to laugh, lest we cry.

So we all reaped (and continue to reap) the benefits of fitting into this group.  This group of ladies who, by now, are quite close.  Closer to each other (most of whom have never met in person) than with some of our own family members.  We text each other, "talk" on Facebook into the wee hours of the night, Skype, and Snapchat.  We ask for advice, lean on each other, and lift each other up, and laugh.

Yup.  It's an amazing thing.  Except that one thing.  Remember?  It's a group centered around cancer.  Women with cancer at all different stages.  With that comes the possibility of losing one of our sisters to that evil disease.  It happened this morning.

Dear sweet Michelle took a recent turn for the worse.  We all knew she was stage four, but it was only recently that she found out that the treatment had stopped working.  She decided to stop treatment and enjoy her last days with her husband and daughter.  We all tried to decide what the best course was.  Should we arrange for some meals or a housekeeping service or an uplifting floral arrangement?  We spent about a day trying to decide.

And then, this morning, her husband notified one in our group that she passed peacefully this morning.  Her sweet little girl will always associate Christmas with the season when she lost her mom.  Her husband probably has a gift or two for her, all wrapped and ready.  It's a horrible thing to process, and I'm not doing a very good job of it right now.

I've been pretty down about our financial situation.  If we had about two more weeks before Christmas, we'd be fine.  Kevin's checks have been short because of my surgery and hospitalizations.  My short-term disability has kicked in, but no check has been received yet.  I was starting to let myself slide toward a pity-party.

But I'm alive.  My kids will have their mom at Christmas.  My parents don't have to attend my funeral.  We will eat, drink, laugh, and love.  If my kids get gifts a week or two after Christmas, they won't be bothered in the least.  They told me, in fact, that they would happily forgo gifts altogether.  We have each other, and we're learning more every day about how much that means.

Rest in peace, Michelle.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Drain Removal and New Belly Buttons

Warning!  Graphic images and video that may freak you out!

You've been warned.

I had a follow-up visit with my plastic surgeon this morning.  He is quite happy with how I am  healing.  In fact, it's better than he had anticipated.  That was SO good to hear.  I also got rid of two of my three drains today.  I'm hoping to see the other one go on Monday.  Fingers crossed!

During all of this process, I have taken some photos and had Kevin take a video.  It's stuff that fascinates me, and I thought some others may be as warped as I am, so I want to share.

First, the new breast is made out of muscle, fat, and skin from my tummy.  This means a few different things.  For instance, I have a few stretch marks on the bottom side, because I had a few stretch marks on my tummy.  Get it?

Another thing is that my belly button wound up on my upper chest, on the inside of the new breast.  He sewed it closed, and it's healing, but I've been having fun pulling down the neck of my shirt and telling people, "Look!  This was my belly button!"

This image, like all of these, have bruises, medical tape residue, and incisions.  I did warn you, remember?

Usually, after the shock of seeing this wears off, the next question is, "So, Rachel, do you have a NEW belly button?  What does it look like?"  This is where it gets even more fun.  My new belly button is a circle surrounded by stitches.  We've discussed how much it looks like the CBC Sunday Morning sun (example at the end of this blog entry):

There is also the talking point of my hip-to-hip incision.  I debated about showing this because it would be WAY too revealing, had the bandages not been there.  Oh well.  All of my modesty has left me in this past two years, so here ya go.  It still has the steri strips on at this point, but you can see the length of it:

Finally, with all of my history and experience with drains, I thought to ask Kevin to record the removal process.  It goes really fast, but it's interesting.  I added an image and a couple of captions to help explain things.  I also blurred out the new breast, even though it doesn't yet look like one.

So there you have it.  More of my body than anyone has ever wanted to see.  And if you weren't sure what I meant by the CBS Sunday Morning sun, here you go:

Thursday, December 12, 2013


I finally had my surgery on Monday.  It seemed like the day would never get here, but when it did, I was scared to death.  I wasn't scared of being put under.  I wasn't scared of being operated on.  I wasn't even scared of the pain that I'd been warned would come after.  I was terrified that this, too, would fail.

My expander to implant surgery failed.  The replacement implant failed.  It's been a frustrating couple of years, and I just couldn't keep the optimism that I usually have.  I had a cloud of dread over my head about this and I pictured myself going through the entire, painful recovery just to have another failure.

I told Dr. Magnificent about this fear when we came to see me in the pre-op room.  He patted my arm and said, "Well, I won't jinx myself, but I don't want you to worry about it."  What seemed like a few minutes later, he was talking to me in post-op and asking me if I wanted to feel it.  He also told me that I wouldn't remember him asking...but I did.

He spent some time with Kevin (as always,) and eventually they brought Kevin back to see me and we headed to my room.  Everyone in recovery and in my room kept commenting on how well I was doing for someone who had just had that major of a surgery.  Everyone.  Thank you, pain pills, and thank you to a tough blood line.  My family is NOT made up of wussies.  :)

On Tuesday morning, I was told that it was time to get out of bed and sit in the chair for a while.  This was the biggest challenge yet, and the first time that I ever remember having a pain that would rate as a 10.  I was in tears and shaking by the time I made this 4' move.  That was the worst, though, and things are slowly becoming more tolerable.

On Wednesday, Dr. Magnificent came to see me, removed much of the dressings, and marveled at how well he and I did.  :)  He always finds a way to make me smile.  He even made me tear up when he told me about the fear he saw in my eyes before surgery.  Apparently, after he left the hospital, he called Kevin on his cell to talk to him about how everything was going and what to expect.  We've never met a doctor like him and we feel so thankful for him and his nurse.

I am now at home, where I'll have a steady stream of babysitters until I'm allowed to be home alone.  Aunt Rena will come today and Mom will sit with me tomorrow.  When the pain pills wear off, I still hit somewhere in the 8 range on the pain meter, but other than that, it hovers between 3 and 6, which I can handle.

I am SO happy that this hurdle has been cleared.  I'm ready for 2014 to be an amazing year.  I had such high hopes for 2013, but 2013 had other plans.  This is going to be my year.  Look out, future.  Here I come with a full head of steam!  Now pardon me while I hobble toward the shower.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Well-Timed Visit

In the midst of all of the pre-surgery anxiety that I've been experiencing, Thanksgiving weekend came along and offered a wonderful distraction.  The fears did not completely disappear, but they certainly got tucked away for hours at a time as I laughed and ate and played.

Thursday was a wonderful day of indulgence.  I indulged in food, drink, and family.  My brother and his family were in town for the first time since before I was diagnosed with cancer.  That seems like a lifetime ago.  A lifetime of chemo, radiation, baldness, and fatigue.

I've loved my brother for a long time (not forever..ask my mother) but I have always taken for granted that we'd both be around forever.  Having mortality stare you in the face will fix that nonsense in a hurry.  I enjoyed his company and appreciated it like I never have before.

Saturday, we spent more time at Mom and Dad's.  More laughter, more fun, and more food.  Although we all consumed way too many calories over the past few days, we made the most of a short visit.  Jim, Deb, and Lyndsay are on the way home now, and I am ready to face my last work week of the year.

When the worries creep in, I'm going to access the memories of the past few days and use them to keep my head where it needs to be.  Family.  What else matters?

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Countdown to Surgery

It's been a busy couple of days for me.  Yesterday was the sleeve and glove pick up day.  No more mummy wrapping!  The sleeve is going to take some getting used to, but it's already better and SO much easier than the seven layers of wrap.  I'm glad that is behind me.

Today started with a pre-op appointment at the plastic surgeon's office.  It's pretty scary to hear how much pain I'm going to be in and that I'll be walking bent over for a while, and to not force myself to stand up straight.  How I can't lift over five pounds for six weeks and how there is no way I'll be able to climb stairs and so on and so on.  I'll have a pain pump for the first couple of days.  I know I can handle it, but it's making both me and Kevin nervous.

One good thing that came out of the appointment was what might happen as a result of the surgery.  Because the radiated tissue will be replaced with non-radiated tissue (with healthy lymphatics,) there is a possibility that my lymphedema may get better.  Wouldn't THAT be amazing?  That lifted our spirits after getting scared by the warnings.

This afternoon, the guy came to set up  my compression pump and show me how to use it.  It's not bad at all.  For 50 minutes a night, I sit in the recliner while the pump does massage to move lymph fluid up and out of my arm.  This is my new routine:

So...two more weeks.  Next week is Thanksgiving and I'm going to get to see my Georgia brother.  The next week is a full week of work.  The Monday after that, we'll head to the hospital to check in and get ready for a noon surgery.  Yup.  The time is finally almost here.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


I don't post because I don't want to reveal how sad and negative I am a lot of the time.  That's not me.  It's my blog and I can do whatever I want.  However, to type the negative words is to give them power.  (in my mind, anyway.)  So I just don't blog.  Today, I have something to blog about.

My friend Michelle nominated me for a Honey Baked Ham gift card, and I won.  It was something about "foiling cancer" and I was thrilled to find out that I'd won a $75 gift card.  That will be a HUGE help on Thanksgiving.  Tonight, I stopped by the local HBH store to order a ham for next week.

There was only one more customer in the store, and it was a couple.  I'm going to guess that they were in their late 50's to early 60's.  She wore a knit hat and was obviously bald.  As I left the store, they were following.  I held the door for them and then asked:

"Did you win a $75 gift card by being nominated for fighting cancer?"  She looked shocked and answered "Yes?"  She seemed confused.  I said, "Yeah.  Me, too.  I fought breast cancer for most of 2012."  She asked when my last chemo was, and I told her that it was September 19, 2012.

This is where I teared up.  She looked at her husband and said, "See?  Look how much hair I'll have in a year!"  I told her that I, too, struggled with the hair loss, felt it would never grow back, and now have had a trim and still have this much hair.

She smiled and then I did it.  I asked if I could please give her a hug.  She nodded and I hugged her.  I hugged her hard.  And while I hugged her, I whispered, "This will be over soon.  I promise."

She nodded and we parted ways.  I'll likely never see her again.  I hope she keeps her chin up, and I promise to do the same.  I have hair.  I have hair, and she'll have hair next year.  Maybe she'll lift up someone else who is struggling at that time. 

Hair?  Wanna see mine?  OK!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

More Boring Health Crap

When the cancer journey is over, I have NO idea what I'll blog about.  I don't even want to blog about endless treatment crap, but I have nothing much else going on.  Busy season at work and endless health crap.  That's my life.

I have contacted out primary care doctor to prescribe the custom fit LE sleeve.  He will send it directly to the lady who will fit me for it.  The therapist also wants me to get a compression pump, because my arm, although slightly better, is still firm and not reacting as well as she'd hoped.

So I have to contact another company to find out of my insurance will pay for this piece of equipment that will work on my arm for an hour a day.  I just sit and let it do it's thing, compressing my arm to get the fluid out.  I may get to stop going to therapy within a week or so, too.  That was nice to hear.  

I was originally told that I'd likely be released to go back to work (after my December 9th surgery) on January 6th.  I saw the paperwork filled out by my doctor today, and it has me out until January 19.  That's not carved in stone, but that means they think there's a chance of my recovery taking 6 weeks instead of 4.  I can't afford to be off that long, so we're going to make sure I go back by the 6th at the latest.  Because I said so.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Night With Friends

I've been teetering on the edge of bitterness lately.  I'm tired of lymphedema and I'm tired of infections and I'm tired of not being "whole" and having to wear garments to even things out and I'm tired of cancer continuing to pop up with family, workmates, and friends.  I struggle with wondering what I did to "deserve" cancer.

That is NOT a place that I want to be.  I don't want to be bitter.  I want to celebrate life and be thankful for the medical team that has been taking care of me.  I want to rejoice that my cancer is gone.  I want to happily look forward to my surgery in December without being impatient.  I want to be happy about the 5 year survival rate studies and stop researching 10, 15, and 20 year studies.

With Kevin and the girls heading out of town this weekend, I decided to organize a girl's night in.  I invited some coworkers over to drink wine and gossip.  The plans continued to develop as the time drew nearer and my friends offered suggestions.  It turned into something way more than I expected.

Five gals came, and we had a ball.  We turned off every light in the house and played hide-and-seek.  The "seeker" had an amazing automatic Nerf gun, and all of the "hiders" had smaller Nerf weapons.  If you found someone, you fired.  If you hit them, they were "it" for the next round.  If a hider shot the seeker first, they had 10 seconds to run toward "base" before the seeker could return fire.

We laughed SO hard.  It was an amazing time.  For an entire evening, I didn't feel sorry for myself or even THINK about health issues.  Not even once.  Thank you, girls.  It's just what I needed.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

I Love My Husband

Kevin and I got into a chat conversation yesterday that ended in typical Fierro fashion.  I just had to share:

Sunday, October 6, 2013

2013 So Far - A Recap

Last year found me dealing with finding a lump, getting a painful biopsy, getting "the call" that I had breast cancer, and starting a long and scary journey.  After meeting nearly a dozen doctors and specialists, my treatment began.

I had 16 weeks of chemo, lost my hair, battled fatigue like I'd never imagined, and learned that "chemo brain" is real.  That was followed closely by 33 radiation treatments to the affected side, a huge area of burn from these treatments, and yet more fatigue.

After all of this, I was ready to move on.  Put it behind me.  Have my reconstructive surgery to make me "whole" again (in my eyes) and keep moving forward with my life.  2013 HAD to be better than 2012.  Anything would beat cancer, right?

This year started off with healing time. Letting my body recover from eight months of abuse.  Eight months of pure hell.  It seemed to be healing just fine.  The day finally came for surgery to remove the tissue expander and place the permanent implant.  That lasted about four weeks before my incision opened up and we had to start over.

The second implant didn't even last as long as the first.  My plastic surgeon gave up on that type of reconstruction, closed me up with no implant, and decided we'd go another route with my reconstruction.  I gathered information about the TRAM flap procedure and got ready.  And then I developed lymphedema.

Lymphedema is chronic, so it's important to start treating it right away to get it under control.  I was referred to an LE specialist in the occupational therapy department and we started massage therapy and compression bandaging.  A couple of weeks in, I developed cellulitis.

After a few days in the hospital on IV antibiotics, I was released and told to take a mega-dose of oral antibiotics for seven days.  Everything seemed fine until day three after finishing that prescription.  The infection reared it's head again.  I was admitted into the hospital for another three days and referred to the infectious disease department.

They decided to change medication courses, and I was sent home with two very powerful and targeted oral antibiotics.  These, on top of my existing daily meds, makes me quite nauseous.  I had to add another pill to combat that.  This infection delay was enough to throw my prospected surgery date out another 5-6 weeks.

I try to avoid posting when I can't be positive.  I'm not always successful, but I try.  I know that it's my blog and I can post whatever I want.  I know that my friends don't mind if I need to vent.  I know that it's OK to everyone else if I whine.  It's not, however, good for me.  I find myself getting bitter as I type the words.

So I try to stick to facts so people know where I am in my treatment.  Yes, I try to stay positive and am pretty darn successful at it most of the time.  I laugh, enjoy my family and my friends, and keep on working.  I don't sink into a deep depression and I haven't given up.

I do cry.  I do get frustrated.  I do wonder "Why me?" and feel like I'm banging my head against a brick wall.  I am human.  I'm not this rock of strength who handles everything perfectly.  I just don't show the sadness very often because sadness breeds sadness in me.  It's like quicksand.  The deeper I let myself go, the deeper in I am pulled.

So I stand at the edge.  Teetering.  Sometimes it's tempting to just dive in and let the people around me fight to pull me free.  They would pull, too.  But if I stay out of the pit of fear quicksand, they won't have to.  I'm fine.  Honestly.  I am handling this the only way that works for me.  I'm not hiding it or masking it.  I'm learning as I go.  Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail.  As long as I come out on the other side, though, I will be victorious.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Just The Facts

In order to not make my pity party public (alliteration amuses me) I shall list only facts.  No opinions or thoughts.  Just facts.

1. I'm out of the hospital and back home.
2. The infection seems to be improving (again.)
3. My antibiotics make me nauseous (puking on I-70 at 6:30 am was a new experience.)
4. My reconstruction is now likely in December, instead of October.
5. I am never to play with my smallest dog unless my arm is wrapped.
6. I'm supposed to be scared of hangnails, never scratch bug bites, and avoid injury to the left arm.
7. I am the ultimate klutz.
8. My therapy for the LE has nearly started over.
9. My therapist will go on maternity leave within 2 weeks, and I'll be going to the plaza and meeting someone new.
10. Kevin doesn't think that Pringles alone can be dinner.

Those are the facts.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

And The Party Never Ends

I took my last dose of oral antibiotics on Saturday.  By Tuesday morning, the infection was back.  By Tuesday afternoon, I was back in the hospital.  This is quite frustrating, but at least they reacted more quickly this time.  Here is the rundown:

I am on IV antibiotics again.  I'm receiving my second dose as I type this.

I'll see someone from infectious disease today.  After that, I'll know more what our plan is.  I always feel better when there is a plan.

I'll likely go home with a PICC line to allow a prolonged course of antibiotics.  Probably a month's worth, but we'll know for sure after "the plan" is in place.

Because of the prolonged course of antibiotics, my reconstructive surgery has to be postponed.  They will NOT do surgery until all traces of infection are gone.  I know this is the only safe way to proceed, but I feel like the carrot that has been dangling in front of me has just been stolen by a feral jackalope.

That is all I know for now.  Kevin left yesterday to tend to me and get me signed in and settled, so he woke at 2 to get to work by 4:00 in order to make up some hours.  I hate that he has to do that, but I sure do appreciate his willingness to do so.  He's a trooper.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Countdown To Surgery

Kevin accompanied me to the plastic surgeon's office this morning. The doctor was 45 minutes late, but I never get upset at him. He spent 30 minutes talking to and comforting Kevin after my last implant failure. He really cares and gives each patient all the time they need.  If he did that for Kevin, I always think that he could be doing that for someone else.  

When he did come in, he examined me and was VERY pleased with how much the skin has softened. He explained the TRAM flap procedure and told us of the other options, and that it was our choice, but he believed the tummy was the best place for donor tissue and I wouldn't need an implant at all. We agreed.  Kevin and I had already discussed it, so we didn't have to think very hard about it.

I had a laundry list of questions, which he answered carefully and attentively. The nurse should call me in the morning to schedule the surgery. It will be 4-6 weeks from now. Late October or early November. I'm a tiny bit nervous, but MAJORLY excited. Let's get this show on the road.  I'll be in the hospital for 2-3 days, and home from work for anywhere from 3-6 weeks, depending upon how I feel.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


The doctor didn't even come by my room Saturday until around 5:00.  He said he was "on the fence" about letting me go home.  Kevin, the girls, and my buddy Brooke, had been in the room with me since before 11:00, and I know how much they all wanted me to go home.  I answered his questions and he agreed to let me go home with the condition that I see my primary care doctor within the first couple days of the week.

I didn't sleep worth a darn.  I think I'll try the recliner tonight.  The redness has gone down in my arm, but there is still a lot of heat in it.  He doubled the amount of Bactrim that I am to take.  Oh goodie.  Twice as much of the medicine that makes me feel crappy.  Oh well, if it works, it works.  I finally forced a can of soup down this afternoon, but even that didn't sound good.  I figured I should eat something before it comes time for the next dose.

I'll go back to work tomorrow and see how quickly I can get in to see our family doctor.  If I get a fever, the pain gets too much, or the redness grows, I am to go back to the ER.  *sigh*  I'm supposed to find out my surgery date this Wednesday, and I'm scared to death that this is going to delay reconstruction.  I sure hope not.

I had a little breakdown on the way to the store today.  I hate it when I do that.  Kevin doesn't know what to do and he wants to fix it.  I try not to feel defeated too often, but it hits me sometimes.  I was so naive last year.  I made it through chemo and radiation by telling myself, "By this time next year, it'll all be over."  Yeah right.

But we march on.  It will do me good to get to work and start taking some calls.  It's full-blown busy season, and it will be a great distraction.  I'd much rather be helping customers solve problems than to be dwelling on my own.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cellulitis Does NOT Mean You're Fat

After a couple of therapy treatments and faithfully wrapping my arm, I noticed a spot on the inside of my forearm, just above my wrist, that was hard under the skin.  When I saw my therapist on Tuesday, she said that it could possibly be cellulitis due to the hardness and the warmth, and told me that she didn't want to do the massage because it could push the infection out into my body.  She sent me upstairs to see my oncologist.

It was 7:00 am, so the nurse was the only one there.  She looked at it, told me she'd contact my doctor and then call me.  I went to work and waited until about 11:00 before calling to check in.  "Oh yeah" she said.  *sigh*  She said that the doctor wanted to have me start a double strength bactrim right away.  She told me she'd call it in.

After work, I stopped at WalMart to get it and they said nothing had been called in.  I drove home mad (doctor's office was closed by now.)  After I got home, I called the on-call line and immediately got a call back.  My doctor was on-call!  Yay!  She didn't sound happy that the nurse had dropped the ball, and told me she would call it in right then.  Now it involved a 30 mile round trip, but I got my medication.

Wednesday morning, the area was nearly twice the size.  That afternoon, I called back in.  The nurse called the doctor and she said to give the bactrim a couple of days to work, and to lay off the LE massage until next week.  Fine.

This morning, I decided to keep my appointment with the therapist, just so someone would look at it.  I got there, she unwrapped me and the area was larger still, and she was concerned about how warm my arm was.  She thought I should go upstairs again.  Same nurse was there.  I showed it to her and she said that she agreed it was worse and that she would talk to the doctor when she got there.  I went to work.

15 minutes into my day, the phone rang.  The nurse told me to go to the ER for IV antibiotics.  She told me to be prepared for the chance that they might admit me.  I hurried to tie up some loose ends at work and headed back to where I'd just left.  Kevin met me there and we waited.  And waited.  Finally they took me back, drew some blood, and hung a bag of fluids and a bag of antibiotic.  It was four hours later before they had a room available, but they did admit me.

I don't know how long I'll be here.  The were pretty vague.  I assume they'll want to see how the arm reacts to the antibiotics.  I am to get them every 12 hours.  I don't feel horrible, the nurses are sweet, and the food is good.  Things could always be worse.  I also get some cute visitors.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Beginning of LE Therapy

I had my first therapy session with the lymphedema specialist this morning at 7.  She explained a lot of things, and then did the massage.  She massages areas with all lymph nodes that she wants to get moving, and then my arm, trying to push the lymphatic fluids toward those working nodes.

After the 30 minutes of that (it will be 45 minutes during future appointments,) she started the process of wrapping my arm and showing me how to do it.  I have to do it alone, because Kevin is long gone to work before I wake up in the mornings.  Because of that, I unwrapped and re-wrapped it tonight, to make sure I could.  I made Monica take pictures for me so I could remember everything.  Wanna see?

First, I put on this sleeve.  It's a lot like what they put on you before wrapping you in an old-school cast: 

Then, I wrap this foam around me.  It's not tight, but it is beneficial in some way.  I don't remember how because that was 13 hours ago.  LOL

After that, I wrap my fingers in this thin gauze wrap.  She told me that it has to cross the back of my hand between each finger wrapping, and if it's done correctly, there will be nothing crossing on my palm.  I got it right!

After that, I take the first of three bandages and wrap my hand and wrist.  They look like ACE bandages, but they have different properties and push fluid out while keeping more fluid from building up.  I have to use tape to hold them in place, because the little clips that you use with an ACE could nick the skin, and that would be a problem.  For the rest of my life, I have to make sure that I don't get any injuries to that arm, because it will be prone to infection.

Finally, I use the other two (wider) bandages to go up my arm.  They have to be uncomfortably tight.  It doesn't hurt, but it's annoying as heck.  It's going to be 15 minutes added to my mornings, and it's going to be uncomfortable, and it's hard to type.  It's also not cancer.  I'm trying to get my attitude in check and stop whining.  

I can do this.  I did chemo, which made me crawl into bed at the end of each day (sometimes crying) and couldn't move until I left for work the next day.  I did radiation, which made my skin so raw that I had to wear special gel pads under my bra.  I had 3 surgeries in 3 months.  This is a wrapped arm.  Just a wrapped arm.  I've got this.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Yup.  I have it.  I saw the LE therapist this afternoon, and start with her tomorrow morning at 7:00 am.  I'll see her on Tuesday and Thursday mornings for up to four weeks, depending upon how my body responds.  I found out that I am NOT guaranteed to wear a compression sleeve for life, but I'm also not guaranteed NOT to wear one.  That made me feel better, because I assumed that I would have to.

Each session will involve her doing a very gentle massage that moves the lymph fluid out of my arm and toward the remaining lymph nodes.  Some toward the opposite side and some down, toward my stomach/groin nodes.  It won't hurt and some people fall asleep.  Cool.  Then, I get wrapped.

There is a thin layer of foam that will be wrapped around my arm, and then a wrap that looks like an ACE, but works completely differently.  Instead of being immobilized, I am to use my arm as normal.  The wrap will help push the fluid out of my arm, and prevent fluid from building back up.  She warned me that it is hot, uncomfortable, and annoying.  She also said to remember that it is temporary.

If the best case scenario comes to pass, my body will respond favorably and the swelling will go down.  Then, I will get a compression sleeve.  How much I wear it, and how long I wear it, will be determined later.  I truly do feel better than I did before this appointment.

Oh, and I told Kevin that there was no need for him to go to this appointment.  I didn't need him there.  He met me there anyway, and it made a world of difference.  I was able to tell all the details of the past year and talk in depth about things without tearing up a single time.  Yup.  I need him there.  I have to stop arguing with him about that.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day Weekend

Labor day weekend was fun for some of us, and meant two full days of Kevin lying under a car in the heat.  Monica had brake issues and nothing went as planned when it came to fixing it.  When you don't live near an auto parts store, you realize how seldom you get everything you need in one trip.  We drove to Buckner four times.  *sigh*

Today, I took Natalie, Monica, and Monica's friend Cori to the mall.  Cori fits in so well with our clan.  We laughed and listened to music too loudly and made inappropriate jokes.  I was able to finally get Natalie some things for her birthday.  It seems she always has to wait.  August is often a difficult month for us for various reasons.  Broken down cars, for instance.

My arm swelled last Thursday and Friday.  It swelled alarmingly fast and wouldn't go down.  I called my oncologist who told me to call my plastic surgeon who told me to call my breast surgeon.  I made call after call as the hours ticked away toward a long weekend.  I finally got a plan from a nurse at 3:00 on Friday.  Go home, stay in the air, and go see Dr. Shook on Tuesday afternoon.  If it swelled more, I was to go to the ER.

I measured often and it has stayed the same all weekend.  It is one inch larger than my right arm in all three places that I measure.  It could be from being in a sling for so long (which is what we hope,) it could be cellulitis (dangerous but controllable by antibiotics,) or it could be lymphedema (Lordy I hope it's not lymphedema.)  I certainly am tired of new complications.

Tomorrow, we launch into super busy days of busy season.  It's been increasingly busy for the past couple of weeks, so the time is here.   No more long weekends or vacations for a while.  Unless you call medical leave a vacation, because I should be having surgery sometime in mid-October.  Somehow, I don't think that counts.  :)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Moving Forward with my Best Friend

Because of my inability to go to a doctor's appointment lately without crying, Kevin has decided to go to every appointment with me from now on.  I thought that was sweet, but silly.  What's the need?  He went to the PS with me yesterday and it was so much easier on me.  It's amazing what a difference it made.  He was right.

In six weeks, we'll go talk to Dr. Dillow again and get the ball rolling for the TRAM flap surgery.  It should happen in mid-late October.  Having a target time helps a lot, too.  I was floundering around wondering what would happen and when, and I feel better knowing that it's coming soon.  Soon?  Well, after the 18 months I've just gotten through, mid October is soon.

I've gotten so many cards, letters, texts, messages, comments, and calls of support.  I am astounded.  I have people thinking of me and praying for me all across the country.  How could anything else go wrong with that kind of support?  :)  It won't.  I'm 2 months away from having Dr. Dillow make my body whole again.  That will be an amazing day.

I'm climbing out of my funk, and I'm sorry for being Debby Downer.  I had NO idea, when I got married, how much I'd need Kevin, and how much he'd step up and take care of me.  He has been amazing.  He's my rock.  He's my best friend.  I love him.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Very Difficult Easy Appointment

I know it's been a while (again,) but I refuse to do whiny post after whiny post.  I know that it's my "right" or "normal" to feel like this sometimes, but nobody wants to read that crap all the time, so I'm not posting often until I get out of this funk, but I'll try to update from time to time.

I had an appointment with my medical oncologist today.  (I have so many doctors these days, and will put a legend at the bottom of this to help you understand if you've never dealt with cancer care.)  It was a simple appointment where she checked on me and made sure I had no side effects from my medication and that my vitals were good and then to send me on my way to not see her for six months.

During this simple visit, she asked how everything was going.  I had to tell about it all.  About my reconstructive surgery and how it failed.  About how he tried again and it failed again. About how we're back at square one and I can't even consider another procedure for a couple of months, minimum.  I had to tell her all of this, and it made this simple appointment more difficult that I'd ever imagined.  I returned to work emotionally drained.

I hated having to tell these details.  I hated it more than you can even believe.  I cried all the way back to work.  Emotionally, I'm handling this worse than I handled the weeks after diagnosis.  From the time I was diagnosed with breast cancer, everything has been onward and upward.  "We're doing this to get cancer out of your body."  "We're doing this to keep cancer from spreading to other parts of your body."  "We're doing this to keep cancer from returning to your body."

Now that all of this is handled, it's time for the cosmetic part.  Should be no biggie.  But it keeps failing and now I have to wait and I just want to put it all behind me and MOVE ON.  Before you tell me that it could be worse, I know that.  I have a few friends with stage 4 breast cancer.  They are facing a long road of continuing treatment.  This is just aesthetics.  I'll get by, and I'll try not to whine too much about it.

I have an amazing family taking care of me, and I'm not wearing that damn sling anymore.  Those are two things to be very thankful for.  And believe me, I'm thankful for them.

Edited to add the legend and it's too late to claim chemo brain:

Breast Surgeon (BS) - Performs mastectomy or lumpectomy or whatever is deemed necessary to remove tumors from the breast.

Medical Oncologist (MO) - Administers medications to fight cancer.  Responsible for chemotherapy and any medication after the fact.

Radiology Oncologist (RO) - Administers radiation and follows up with skin issues afterward.

Plastic Surgeon (PS) - Does reconstruction after lumpectomy or mastectomy  Also does work on the unaffected side if only one breast is removed.

Physical Therapist (PT) - Tries to get our body to work like it did before all of the above doctors do their thing.

Primary Care Physician (PCP) - The guy who gets tons of reports sent over and wonders what the HECK has happened to you when you actually only see him for the occasional cough.  Poor fella.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

I'd Give My Left Arm to Get Rid of That Sling

The sling is gone.  I was in it for one day short of 10 weeks.  My arm feels like a noodle hanging off the side of my body.  It's kind of funny.  They made it clear that I am NOT to start therapy yet, and should still restrict lifting and major movement, but still, the sling is gone and I can sleep in my bed!  I slept so well last night, it was unbelievable.  If you ever want to appreciate your bed, sleep in a recliner for 10 weeks.

They also removed the drain.  That is good, but I'm finding that I start hurting around 1:00 or so in the afternoon.  I think it's because I am a desk jockey, so I've been taking a pain pill and then walking around the customer service area and it helps.  I don't have great posture, so I'm thinking that is causing it.  They did yank a drain out of my side yesterday.  I'm hoping that it's a short-lived problem.

I also finally got a medic alert bracelet.  I'd been avoiding it because they were either ugly, expensive, or just not what I wanted.  I don't wear jewelry, so it was weird to try to pick one out.  Because of the mastectomy, I cannot have needle sticks or blood pressure cuffs on my left arm, so it's important that I wear it.  It's Italian charms, so I can slowly add charms to replace the blank silver ones.

I'm currently bound in an ACE bandage for 2 weeks, after which I'll go back to see the plastic surgeon.  We won't plan for the next surgery for a couple of months, most likely.  I have to just heal and wait.  *sigh*  A year ago, I really imagined that I'd be done by now.  It was good that I had something to look forward to, but it sure is a disappointment to reach the light at the end of the tunnel and find a gorilla with a flashlight, waiting to knock you down.

I'll be OK.  The pity party has ended and I'm just doing my thing.  I go to work, I come home, and I sleep in my own damn bed.  And that bed feels pretty good, if I do say so myself.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Moving On

I returned to work this morning.  I am extremely tired, but it was doable and I'm home now.  Last week sucked and I hope to never repeat those feelings again.  I was depressed, considered buying cigarettes (I haven't smoked in 15 months,) and cried a lot.  I had so many people tell me that I would handle it fine and that it was no big deal.  That made me feel like even more of a failure.

I'm climbing out of that hole, though.  I even laughed a few times today.  My coworkers are as jacked in the head as I am, and the "your mom" jokes were abundant.  That is what I needed.  I needed to take phone calls, answer emails, move orders, and laugh with coworkers.  I am still not a happy camper, but I'm feeling more and more like I can do this.

The nurse said that they'll likely remove the drain on Wednesday morning at my appointment.  I hope so, but I'm also scared to hope.  I want Kevin at the appointment when we discuss the future surgery, so I asked if that would happen this week.  It won't.  We'll just remove the drain (I hope) and assess the healing process.  I'm also cautiously hoping to ditch the sling.
I'm moving on.  I've always moved on.  What else can a person do?  I have a husband who takes incredible care of me.  I have kids who love me.  I have parents who live nearby, love me, and do their part to take care of me.  I am loved, and they'll love me through this.  It's what we do around here.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Baby Steps

I stayed vertical during my waking hours today.  THAT is a step in the right direction.  I was finally able to fall asleep around midnight, and slept until 4 this morning when Kevin was getting around for work.  He stuck around while I got up to take medicine (he made me a piece of peanut butter toast,) go to the bathroom, do my drain care, etc. before he left for work.  After that, I went to lie down in bed for a few minutes and woke up three hours later!

I felt a bit better today, only breaking down into tears when someone talks to me with pity-voice.  I had perfected handling that voice last year, but it's been a while and this hurt is still fresh.  I know there will be a lot of that voice and the puppy eyes when I go back to work, so I need to be ready.  I also know, however, that my close friends will give me shit for missing work.  That'll help.

This afternoon, I felt like maybe I could sleep just a bit more, so I told Monica I was going to take a quick nap.  Four hours later, I woke up again.  I think my sleeping problem has been resolved.  I called out from the bedroom and Natalie came in.  When I asked her what time it is, she said that it was 5:00 and I couldn't believe it.  Now I'm just hoping that I'll still be able to sleep tonight after all that sleep today.  First world problems.
I don't think I'll be ready to go back to work tomorrow, although I had hoped to.  I'm still pretty unsteady and it's a constant job to control pain.  I might try for Friday, but I'd have to make a pretty big improvement for that to happen.  Although it's taking longer than I expected, I'm just glad I'm heading in the right direction.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Who Moved The Floor?

It's been a rough couple of days.They scheduled me for surgery at 4:00 yesterday, where they removed the implant and placed a drain tube.  We won't be able to consider a different reconstruction plan for several months.  This devastated me more than you could possibly imagine.

I have cried for two days straight.  I cannot sleep, food doesn't sound appealing, and if anyone says anything encouraging to me, it makes me cry harder.  So many have told me that this would be no big deal because I'm so strong, and that makes me feel like a failure because this is getting to me more than the other stuff did.  I have had two days of a deep depression that is worse than I felt when I was diagnosed with cancer.

I had it in my mind that I was on the downhill slide.  I went through 13 months of the tissue expander to prepare for the implant.  The first one failed, but he placed another.  I wore that sling at all times, other than in the shower.  I have slept in the recliner for two solid months, trying to make this work.  And yesterday, in a 30 minute procedure, the implant was removed and I look worse than I did last April, post-mastectomy.

It's an evil leftover from an evil disease.  As I'm trying to get myself together and figure out how to return to work, I cannot sleep.  I got about an hour this morning, but that was it.  My mind races and I sink back into pity party mode.  I don't want to eat, I don't want to do anything.

Mom and Dad suggested bringing me a Subway sandwich, and that actually sounded good!  They brought it around noon and it tasted as good as it sounded.  I was still sad, but I had eaten something substantial for the first time since Sunday evening.  I thought I must be on my way to getting better.  That's when I decided to try to nap again.

I went to the bathroom, took out my contacts, emptied the infernal drain, and as I got done, I was looking into the sink and everything started swimming.  I could tell that I was going down.  I processed it and decided that the best thing to do was to get to the floor before gravity put me there.  I was about halfway down when I passed out.  I was only out for a few seconds, but I had to lie there on the floor for a while before I could move.

Finally, I crawled slowly into the living room, got into my chair, and sent Kevin a "don't freak out, but..." text.  He said he was leaving work immediately.  He wasn't happy that I pushed him to go in the first place, but I honestly felt I'd be OK.  I was wrong.  Various parts of me, including my head, hit the doorway on the way down, but not really hard.  I don't have a knot or anything.  I do have a headache from the lack of sleep, crying, the fall, and probably medication.

The nurse called in some Valium for me, and Kevin is gone to pick it up now.  He has me surrounded by anything I could possibly need so I won't get up until he gets home.  If I don't sleep tonight, I'm going to take an elephant tranquilizer.  Eventually, exhaustion will have to take over.  I hope.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Here We Go Again

It started Friday night.  Natalie noticed some blood on my shirt.  The incision wasn't open, but it has a soft spot about an inch long and it's seeping.  It's looking exactly like it did the last time, right before it opened.  I put some butterfly closures on it and wrapped myself in an Ace bandage.  I didn't say anything to Kevin because I didn't want him to cancel his trip to Carthage for our youngest grand-baby's first birthday party.

Yesterday it looked the same, but was seeping even more.  I called Kevin to tell him.  He offered to come home, but there's really no reason. Nothing can be done on the weekend, unless the need arises to go to the ER, which hasn't happened.  I told him I'd call the Dr. today.

The butterfly bandages are keeping it from getting worse, I think.  I was scared to unwrap today to shower, but it looks about the same.  I showered and then called the number for the on-call Dr.  He called back immediately and asked if I could see the implant.  "Not this time."  LOL  He advised me to bandage and wrap exactly as I had.

He said that, as long as it's not open, I'm not at risk for infection so there is no need to go to the ER.  I'm supposed to lay low and stay wrapped and call in to get seen tomorrow.  I'll definitely have to have at least one more surgery.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pants on Fire

I know, I know.  I said I'd update more.  I kind of got absorbed by a Candy Crush habit.  I'll be over it soon, though.  I never stick with a game for very long on Facebook.  I get really obsessed, play all the time, drive everyone crazy with it, and then get bored and block the app.  It's how I roll.

I had a couple of downer days over the weekend, so I didn't want to post then.  I honestly can't even stand myself when I complain, so I try really hard not to subject others to it.  I'm better now that I'm at work and can stay busy.  There is so little I can do at home with my arm in a sling.  At work, all I do is answer calls and work on the computer. I can do that with no problem!

Kevin's been working a lot of overtime lately, so we don't see each other Monday through Thursday.  I see him Friday evening through Sunday.  It's not an ideal situation, but it's helping pay the bills and giving me Fridays off to make up for no vacation days.

The night shift is hit and miss as far as being busy.  Last night I had three calls after 5:00, and the last one was at 5:39.  I have to be here until 7:30.  It was torture.  I finally found some work to keep my busy so I didn't pull my hair out.  Sometimes a production employee walks by the customer service area and catches me acting silly or singing to myself and I'm alone in the room.  They look at me like I'm crazy.

They're right.

Monday, July 1, 2013

What Died?

Last Monday, as I headed home from work, something smelled a little bit "off" in my car.  I couldn't quite place it.  I looked around to see if a kid had left something in there (food, etc) and couldn't find anything.  Once on the road, I could no longer smell it, so I forgot all about it.

Tuesday morning, I was a bit stronger, but I didn't have time to investigate, so I came on to work, forgetting about it along the way, again.  After work, I went out to my car and the smell hit me before I got to the door.  Getting in the car proved nauseating.  It smelled like a dead body.

When I got home, I looked all around in there again and couldn't find anything.  I went back and popped the trunk and was almost flattened as the smell hit me in the face in the 95° heat.  There, in the back, was the milk that I had purchased on Monday morning.  It apparently never got taken into the house.

Except that it was no longer milk.  It was 1/3 full of a chunky substance with a brown color.  The entire carpet in my trunk was moist with the wretched nastiness.  I drove to work and back on Wednesday wishing that my sense of smell didn't work.  A coworker and I started some online research for ideas to help.

That night, I sprinkled a full 1 pound can of coffee back there.  The next day, it smelled like coffee grounds and death.  Slightly more like coffee, but the hint of death was still there.  Yesterday, Natalie vacuumed the coffee out and found an area that had allowed the liquid to pool.  Kevin got rid of that, and today I put an air freshener in the front of my car.  As of tonight, the death smell is gone.

Let's just hope it doesn't come back.  ::shudder::

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Of Peanut Butter Inequality

I seldom want peanut butter.  I don't hate it, but I don't crave it either.  About once a year, I decide that peanut butter sounds good.  My antibiotics have been making me nauseous, so I haven't been able to eat a lot of things, and today as I was packing crackers for my lunch, it occurred to me that peanut butter on the crackers sounded mighty tasty. 

I like creamy peanut butter.  Crunchy is OK, but not preferred.  We always have both on hand because we're a house divided.  I reached into the cabinet, pulled out the jar of creamy peanut butter, took off the lid, and saw this:

WHY is it gone the ONE time I want peanut butter, and WHY was it put back in the cabinet empty?  Such a travesty!  I got over my amazement at this and decided to settle for crunchy.  I pulled that jar out of the cabinet, filled my little container for lunch, and was getting ready to leave for work.

That's when I noticed something else:

Does this seem fair to you?  The crunchy peanut butter eaters get Jif.  The creamy peanut butter eaters get Aldi's "Peanut Delight" brand.  What the heck, man???  I would lodge a formal complaint with my husband, but I expect that he would tell me to start doing the grocery shopping myself.  SO not worth it for one craving a year.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Vacation Bible School

I'm sick of whining about me, so I'll do an upbeat post. 

I found out that our local church was set to have vacation bible school this week.  When I was a kid, I'd go to every church's vacation bible school if I could.  I LOVED it.  When my kids were little, I let them go to every VBS possible.  They always loved it.  When I saw that it was that time of year again, I asked Kami's mom if she could stay with us for a week and attend.  My girls are on summer break, so they could transport her and watch her. 

I'm working the late shift this week, so I took her to the church on Monday morning.  Monica rode along to help get her situated.  She broke down into tears instantly.  She didn't want to stay, she didn't want to play, she didn't want anything to do with the other kids.  She was sobbing and crying real tears.

I KNEW she'd have a ball if she gave it a chance, so Monica offered to stay with her and I went on my way.  She only cried a tiny bit longer, and by the end of the morning, she was having a ball.  Monica also enjoyed herself and volunteered to help out for the rest of the week.  Win-win.  I can't wait to see what the rest of the week brings.

Here is Kami doing arts and crafts:

And having a snack:

Sunday, June 23, 2013

In Search of Sleep

I like my sleep.  I strive for 8 hours each night.  I'll settle for 7, and can get by on 6 in an emergency, but I sure am more pleasant to be around when I've had 8.  My mom frequently struggles to get enough sleep.  I've always felt blessed that I don't have that problem.

Even when taking chemo, I only struggled for sleep for a couple of days after each treatment, due to the steroids that they shot me full of.  While many of my sisters in treatment struggled, I climbed into bed and passed out almost every day within moments.

Since this last procedure, I'm completely exhausted but having trouble sleeping.  I don't know if it's because I'm feeling a bit down, or the combination of the bottles of pills beside me, or the necessity for sleeping in the recliner, or the bandages wrapped tight around my chest.  Heck, it's likely a combination.

So tonight, I am going to take an Ambien.  In fact, I just did.  I have to get back to work tomorrow whether I'm ready or not.  I'll have to allow time to shower (my left arm is useless, it has become so weak,) and bandage myself, get Kami registered for VBS and then get off to work.  For all of that to flow seamlessly, I need sleep.  I popped that thing 20 minutes ago, and I'm already getting kind of fuzzy-headed. 

I'm hoping a good night's sleep improves my foul mood.  My family deserves  it.  Here's to tomorrow!    And here's to better living through chemistry.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Moving On

So the healing starts again.  Only this time, it's different.  This time I know that the odds aren't great.  I know that I may have some difficult decisions in front of me.  I hope it isn't so, but I know that I need to be prepared for that possibility.  It's kind of depressing.

I'm the upbeat, positive one.  I talk Kevin out of any funk that he may get into.  He's been talking me out of MY funk for 2 days now.  He left this morning for Carthage to pick up Monica and bring her home.  They'll be back tomorrow.  Natalie will be home from her basketball excursion in a few hours.  That's good, since I need some company.

I'm wearing my sling.  I'm wrapped in an ace bandage.  I've got Neosporin and Silvadene in the places that they are supposed to be.  I'm taking my precautionary antibiotics.  I'm doing everything I'm told.  If I do everything perfectly, I have a 60% chance of being done with reconstruction procedures.  *sigh*

Cancer is evil.  I kicked it's ass, yet it's still finding ways to get a punch in from time to time.  Oh, it won't win, but all of this fighting sure does make me tired.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


We had a major problem this morning.  I didn't say anything to my parents or kids because when it's bad stuff, I like to share it with them in past tense.  Later, I'll post a link to an image, but PLEASE be warned:  It's graphic.  Very graphic.

I slept in the recliner as instructed, to avoid problems.  I woke up early this morning and realized that my shirt was damp on my left side.  "Wow, I must have sweated a LOT."  Half asleep, I reached my hand under my shirt and realized it was thick and sticky.  Realization set in when I looked at my hand and saw blood.

I calmly walked into the bathroom and raised up my shirt.  What I saw sent me into full on panic mode.  My entire incision had opened up (about five inches across) and my implant was lying there, exposed.  I walked into the bedroom to try to figure out what to do.

I woke Kevin by saying, "Umm, my incision opened up."  He said "OK" and started trying to wake up.  He sounded pretty nonchalant, so I must not have sounded as scared as I was.  I was bandaging over it with a gauze pad and he offered to wrap me in an ace.  When he came over, I asked him to take a picture with my phone first.  He stepped around me, got one glimpse, and said, "Holy SHIT!"  Umm,  yeah.  That's what I was thinking.

He called the on-call doctor and she instructed him to leave me wrapped as he had done it, and come in as planned.  We were both so scared that we left early.  The staff at Shawnee Mission Surgery Center are amazing, and when Kevin told me what had happened, they took me back and got me changed and into a bed, all as I alternated between crying and shaking.

After the Wonderful Dr. Dillow came to see me, they gave me some medicine to relax me and some pain medication.  That seemed to help.  Around 1:00, they finally wheeled me back to the operating room and knocked me out.  I was out in an hour and Kevin was with me 45 minutes later.  Now I'm home.

He put in a new implant, since that one had been exposed.  According to him, I have about a 40% chance of this being a failure.  If it opens again, tomorrow or nine months from now, he cannot put another one in.  At that point, we give up on the implant and explore other reconstruction options.  All of the others are pretty major and involve a long recovery, so we're really hoping against that.

I'm trying not to be depressed.  It hasn't failed.  The problem is that my brain thought I had an 18% chance of failure, and I now know it's 40%.  That is a scary figure.  I'm just going to concentrate on the fact that I have a 60% chance of this working just fine.  I'm back in the sling.  Dr Wonderful said that it had NOTHING to do with anything I did.  He said that radiation beat my tissue down more than most people.  Dang.

Now, if you have a strong stomach and want to see what I saw in the mirror, click here.  You've been warned.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Well, Dang.

I had an appointment with my plastic surgeon today.  I was hoping to ditch the sling, once and for all.  That isn't what happened, though.  He said there is a 1.5" area of the incision on the radiated side that didn't heal around the deep sutures. It looks fine on the outside, but he can tell by feeling that it's not holding together in there.  Apparently, I'm only held together by skin in that spot.  So I'm still in a sling, and I have to go back to the surgery center tomorrow.

They'll sedate me into a "twilight" state and open it up, irrigate it, and redo the deep sutures. I should be able to go back to work on Friday, but I'll be in the sling for a while longer for sure.

I'm not scared and it's not a major procedure, but I was VERY angry at first.  Angry to the point of crying all the way back to work.  I am SO tired of the whole ordeal. I don't want surgeries, procedures, or even Dr. visits!  I want to be DONE.

I am in a better place now than I was when he first told me, though. I am thankful that he is so thorough and there are far worse things in life than wearing a sling.  I have one of the best plastic surgeons around and he will take good care of me.  I trust him completely. 

I'll leave home around 9 tomorrow morning, get there by 10:30, and my surgery is scheduled for noon.  I'm an add-in, though, so I'm going to try to be as patient as possible.  Breathe in, breathe out.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Who's in Charge Here?

I work hard every day.  Kevin works hard, too.  We buy dog food, fill water dishes, protect our pets from extreme weather, and shower them with love and affection.  We are doting pet owners.  We do everything we can to ensure they have a happy and healthy life.  What do they bring to the table?  Entertainment and loyalty and....well, and nothing else.

They wake us at ungodly hours and bark when we wish they'd shut up and shed all over my house and smell bad and I could go on and on.  Why do I have dogs?  I have NO idea why I'm so in love with these hair-balls.  Still, as one-sided as this relationship is, Susie feels that she runs the show.

I've never had a dog that expresses her wants and needs this well.  You are never in doubt what she wants.  She spins in front of her desired door.  Front door spinning?  She wants to go potty.  Back door spinning?  She wants out to play with Radar, or wants the boys to come in. Side door spinning?  She wants to be fed.  It's easy.

In fact, when she's ready for bed, she goes to the bedroom.  However, she's only happy going to bed in both Kevin and I go to bed.  He goes to bed ridiculously early, and wakes ridiculously early.  I go to bed much later and wake much later.  This ticks her off.  A lot.

I get home, Kevin is asleep, and I start watching TV and maybe having a beer.  Susie starts spinning in front of the bedroom door.  I ignore her.  She hops on my lap and then runs back to the bedroom door.  Yeah, I get it, Susie.  You want to go to bed.  Not yet.  She sighs.

Finally, she's lying on the couch, pouting, and sighs heavily every 10 minutes or so.  It's funny, but annoying.  When I finally go to bed, she runs in there with me and assumes that I FINALLY got the idea.  Stupid humans, right?  It makes me realize that SHE is often in charge.  She doesn't work, she doesn't take care of the house, she doesn't clean, and she doesn't contribute in any way (other than companionship) to this household.  But she is running this show.

She wins.  Goodnight.

Monday, June 17, 2013

What Happened to Your Arm?

I am asked this question several times a day.  If you see someone with their arm in a sling, you assume they have injured their arm.  If it's someone who knows that I spent the past year fighting breast cancer, I answer, "Nothing.  My plastic surgeon wants me to avoid using that side for a while." 

Sometimes, though, it's someone I barely know, or only know via the phone at work.  If I meet a customer face-to-face for the first time and they ask, "What did you do to your arm?" I try to answer halfway and let it go.  If you tell someone "I had breast cancer and just had step 2 of the reconstruction process and radiated tissue can be tricky when it comes to healing so I need to limit the use of the pectoral muscles on the left side for a few weeks to give my body an advantage and...." you see where this goes into the realm of Do They Really Need All That Information? pretty quickly. 

It makes people feel like they should say, "Oh no!  How are you doing?  What stage?  Are you OK now?" or even worse, it makes them completely uncomfortable and they look down and regret asking why my arm is in a sling.  I hate making people feel uncomfortable, and cancer has an amazing ability to do that.

Today a coworker answered the question for me by saying, "Her arm is fine, but she got a new boob."  The guy who asked looked puzzled and asked, "Is the sling holding it on?"  I nearly died laughing.  I enjoy working around people who have the same sense of humor that I have.  This is someone who we know quite well and she knew she could get away with it.  Hopefully, I'll get rid of the sling on Wednesday and people can stop asking.

On a side note, the question is sometimes, "Wow!  You really changed your hair!"  heh heh.  No.  No I did not.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Catching Up

It's been three weeks since my surgery.  He decided to have me wear a sling so I wouldn't use my left arm much.  The radiation makes it difficult for the tissue to heal, so he's taking every precaution.  Dr. Google let me know what the chances are for a failure of some sort, so I'm wearing the sling and doing what I'm told.  My coworkers and I have been having fun blinging it up.  We call it "Sling Bling.

I started a new shift at work.  Usually, we all take turns working the "late shift."  Someone stays and answers phone calls from 5-7:30 Monday through Thursday, so when it's your turn, you work 11:30 - 7:30 for those four days, and then normal hours on Friday.  Because medical stuff took all my vacation, I asked to work 8:30-7:30 for four days and have Fridays off.  It makes for some LONG days, but it's worth it on Friday. 

I will go see my plastic surgeon on Wednesday of next week.  I don't know if he'll let me out of the sling or not, but I'm hoping so.  I can already tell that I've lost everything that I had gained with therapy, but I'll just start the exercises again and get it back.  I'm so glad to be moving on.  I'm not healing as well on the right side as I think I should.  I hope that it's either better by next week, or he does something to help it along.  I'm still having to bandage the incisions every day.

We had to get our air conditioner charged with coolant today.  We hadn't used it yet, so we turned it on Monday for the first time and it blew warm air.  He left a bill for us.  $300.  Ouch.  Poor Kevin was wanting to get some ammo this weekend, too.  He traded guns with a guy and he hasn't even got to shoot it yet! 

Tomorrow is my parent's anniversary, Sunday is my dad's birthday and Father's Day, and Monday is my wedding anniversary.  Lots of celebration, even though we don't celebrate big.  We pretty much just tell each other how much we appreciate one another, and leave it at that.  Greeting card companies don't make much off of us.

That's about all the catching up that I have.  I really want to do better at updating more often.  With this new shift, I think I can make it work.  I hope.  Maybe.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Day Has Arrived

It's been a long year.  It's been a really bad year, actually.  Things keep getting better, though.  Today, in less than an hour, in  fact, we'll be heading to the hospital for my reconstructive surgery.  They'll remove the hard-as-a-rock tissue expander that they put in last April during the mastectomy, and replace it with a permanent implant.  He has a lot of shaping and scar tissue removal to do while he's in there.

Then, he'll do a reduction and lift on the other side for symmetry.  That's the side that will likely have the most pain, but the reconstruction side is the side we'll have to watch closely.  Because of the radiation on that side, the tissue will have a tougher time healing.  I may be in a sling for a while just to keep my arm still.  Whatever it takes, I'll do it.  I'm taking every possible precaution against infection and problems.  The "failure rate" of this surgery after radiation is a little scary, but as long as I follow all the doctor's rules and warnings, I have faith that it will be fine.

Kevin and I will head out around 5:15 to arrive at the Shawnee Mission Surgical Center by 7.  The procedure is to start at 8:30 and will take around 3 hours.  After an hour or two in recovery, we'll head home.  Kevin will be in charge of updating folks.  I'll be home and medicated by 5, if everything goes as planned.  Here we go!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Oh. Hi!

Yes.  It's been nearly a month since I updated.  I nearly deleted this blog about 20 times in the past month.  "Who cares?"  "Why bother?"  "There's always FaceBook."  "I don't matter, anyway."  "Nobody gives a shit."

Those are all things that I have thought in the past two months.  Of course, I know that most are not true.  I just got into a horrible place in my mind.  I could get through a work day if I allowed myself a couple of breaks to escape to the restroom and cry for a minute, but I was NOT my normal self.  I was NOT the positive one that I've always been.

I was embarrassed that I had beaten cancer and wasn't dancing a jig 24/7.  How do you tell someone that you're one of the luckiest people on earth and you're down in the dumps?  I just backed off and didn't tell anyone anything.  Other than Kevin.  Poor Kevin.

My oncologist made a medication adjustment, and I felt a difference 2 days later.  Within a week, I was laughing with my family.  I'm still not what I was, and I'll never be the same, but I feel like I can live.  I feel like I can be happy.  I feel like I'm in control again.

I had a follow-up with the oncologist today, and she's set me free for 3 months.  At that time, if all is still good, I'll only have to go back every 6 months.  WooHoo!

Next week is my pre-op appointment, and the following week is my exchange surgery.  Moving on.  I'm moving on.  Let's get this party started!

Oh yeah.  I forgot to mention:  My hair is curly and out of control.  And I'm OK with that.  :)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A New Plan

I saw my oncologist today.  The blood tests show that I can take AIs now, instead of Tamoxifen.  She prescribed a new medication called Letrozole.  I'll see her in 4 weeks to see how I'm reacting to it.  It's not even in the same family as Tamoxifen, so I'm sure it will be fine.

She also upped the strength of the other drug that will hopefully combat the hot flashes and mood swings.  We'll see.  I'm tired of being crabby.  I can handle crazy, but constant negativity is something that I usually combat, not contribute to.

I'll try to come up with an upbeat, non-cancer post soon.  Honest!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Quit Complaining Debbie Downer

This is not a negative post.  I've done enough of those.  I think I'll be in a much better mood when the weather reflects the season.  I need green grass and outside time and hanging out in Dad's shop.  Yup. That'll do it.  After this snowstorm, that is.  I've honestly not been posting much because even I am sick of my negativity.  Here is a picture:
The end.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Cancer Effing Sucks

My echo cardiogram was as clear as every other test has been.  That was a relief, but still left a huge question mark over my head about how we were going to treat the swelling.  I finally met with my oncologist today.  My blood pressure was 150/100 *sigh* but the swelling is mostly gone.

She feels that the swelling and other side effects were direct results of the Tamoxifen.  The problem is that there is no other drug that is effective in pre-menopausal women.  Post-menopausal women have several to choose from.  This demands that we find out where I am in that respect.

Guys, stop reading now.  You're welcome.

I haven't had a period since June of '12, when I started chemo.  That's to be expected.  Starting Tamoxifen was expected to yield the same result, so no shocks there.  The problem is that it prevents us from counting on the obvious symptoms to know my menopausal status.  So they drew blood.  Mom?  This is where you remind me how old you were when you went through it.

For now, I am still off Tamoxifen.  I don't like that, since I want every weapon available to me in this fight, but I'll deal with it for three more weeks.  At that point, I'll go back to see the oncologist and see what my blood work revealed.  If I'm pre-menopausal, they'll likely give me an injection (or injections? I don't remember what she said) to stop my ovaries from working, throwing me into menopause.  Then I can start one of the many drugs aimed at that.

More waiting.  More unsettled worrying.  More and more proof that cancer effing sucks.  I suggest you avoid it.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

One Year Later

Today marks a year since I got the call, confirming my suspicions of breast cancer.  With the help of an amazing team of doctors, I threw everything I could at the beast, and I feel I beat it.  This week's mammogram on the remaining breast came out "all clear," which was an amazing relief.  They tested 10 lymph nodes during my mastectomy, and three of them were positive for those pesky cancer cells.

When it's in your lymph nodes, it is easily carried to other parts of your body.  This is the annoying thing that keeps me on my guard.  Knowing that, even though chemotherapy ended six months ago and radiation ended four months ago, I had a clear mammogram.  That is comforting.

I've been pulled off of Tamoxifen, the hormone suppressing drug, because of my swelling and other symptoms.  An echo-cardiogram has been ordered for next Friday morning to make sure my heart hasn't been damaged.  I had one before my surgery that was good, so we have a baseline for comparison.  Worrying won't help, so I'll just wait.

All of my kids will be together on Wednesday evening, and I'm really looking forward to that.  It's a black-out week at work, so I couldn't take any time off, but Kevin was able to.  We'll try to do some fun stuff with them.  I'm glad there is something positive and fun for me to focus my attention on.  The bottom line is, I've survived a horrible year.  And I'm stronger for it.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Stupid Medical Crap

I'm so done with medical issues!  I had my annual ob-gyn appointment today.  Just routine.  Well, except that it is at last  year's appointment that I talked to her about the lump, and it was at last years appointment that she ordered the mammogram that resulted in the biopsy that happened a year ago today.  Yeah.  Except for that.

My gynecologist's office is down the hall from the cancer center.  This means that I entered the same building and took the same elevator to the same floor.  I was fine this morning, but by the time I got to the office and signed in, I was nervous as heck.  Stupid.

They called me back, I got changed into the gown, and I waited.  Forever.  When Dr. Finkle came in, she said, "So, how are you doing, really?"  That's when I broke down crying.  I'm so done.  I'm done with appointments, I'm done with poking and prodding, and I'm done with questions.  I love her dearly, and she's the reason that cancer didn't win.  I'm not mad at her, I'm just down.

So we talked and she wants to have me try Effexor, which should alleviate the hot flashes and help with anxiety at the same time.  I'm willing to try.  I've been a nightmare to my family for a while now.  Everyone that I know is on my last nerve.  The common denominator is me.  I hope it helps.  But we didn't get to complete that conversation, because that's when she started my exam by looking at my legs.

"Your legs are SO swollen?  How long have they been like that?  Why didn't you say anything?"  Umm, because it's no biggie to me compared to cancer?  Because I'm fat and I figured that was to blame?  Because I'm sick of reporting medical complications?  I don't KNOW!  She completed the exam and then looked at my legs again.  She said I wasn't leaving until she decided what she was going to do.

After getting dressed, I opened the door. She met me at the door and said, "I've decided how we're handling this."  It could be a blood clot, or a heart issue, or just fluid retention.  She ordered an immediate ultrasound of my legs to rule out clots and I headed downstairs to complete that.  My oncologist was not in the office, but she will call her and get me in sooner than my March 19th appointment.  She will let my oncologist decide where to send me to rule out heart issues.

The ultrasound showed no clots.  That was my biggest worry.  Those can mean instant death.  I have no blood clots.  PHEW!  I'll get a call tomorrow with information about what to do next.  Damn.  I'm SO sick of this stuff.  I was in a funk before this, and now I have to concentrate on not letting it pull me down further.  I have a great week ahead of me, and that's what I plan to concentrate on.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Phew! The Mammogram Edition

Today was round one of my appointments that mark one year since my diagnosis of invasive ductal carcinoma.  I had spent the weekend in Texas, enjoying sunshine and time with friends, so I came back relaxed and happy.  I thought I'd be fine today and just go to my appointments and then come home.  But it wasn't that easy.

I woke up late, since I didn't have to work today.  (I took a vacation day to get through the appointments.)  The closer it got to time to leave, the more worried I became.  I know a lot of people who are approaching the one year mark, and they are finding abnormalities.  I know two who now have metastatic breast cancer.  I know that I'm at greater risk than many people.  I started tearing up and wringing my hands.  (because we all know how much good that does.)

Kevin sent a text and offered to go with me.   You betcha!  He was there a year ago for all of the first appointments.  He acts as a memory and another set of ears for me.  He gets to be the calm one.  He gets to ask questions that I may forget.

Our first stop was at the rehab office for my physical therapy.  I suspected that she'd release me and I was right.  She told me to continue my at-home exercises right up until surgery, and then resume them as soon as the plastic surgeon approves.  My range of motion measurements were great and she was thrilled with my progress.  I'm to ask to see her again ONLY if I have problems.

From there, we went to the diagnostic center for the mammogram.  I was starting to really stress.  I tried to breathe through it and calm down.  Kevin and I played games on the iPad and made nonsense conversation to pass the time.  I had the mammogram (on the remaining side only) and then waited to get results.  I could see some weird areas on the screen as I went by, and my panic increased.

Finally, a doctor that I'd never met knocked on the door and came in.  "Here we go," I thought.  "This is where it all started.  She's going to tell me I have cancer."  She smiled, shook my  hand, and said, "I've looked over the images and everything looks great."  I instantly teared up.  I was more relieved than I've ever been in my life.  All that was left was to see the breast surgeon.

His nurse practitioner came in first and asked some questions and examined me.  Then Dr. Shook came in and examined me again.  He's very pleased with the way the tissue expander side has healed.  (I don't like to call it the "cancer side.")  He asked some questions about the plastic surgeon's plan.  We talked for a bit and then he told me that he didn't need to see me for a year.  What?  No doctor has told me that for a long time!

My emotions are raw and I still have many appointments coming up over the next few months.  I made it through a diagnostic test without finding cancer.  It can be done.  Breathe in, breathe out.  I'll go to work tomorrow and keep moving forward.  Each day is a bright new day.  It should get easier from here.  PHEW!