My Journal through BC

Here is my journal through breast cancer.....


January 2, 2013 I had a mammogram.  I found a lump during a self-breast exam.  Let me back up even further....April 2012, I had a mammogram because I found a lump during a SBE.  The radiologist told me that the lump I was feeling was actually "glandular" tissue.  I inquired about the change in my breast shape and he said that was just normal sagging which can occur with age.  I didn't question that because it seemed to make since at the time.  It wasn't a dimple but rather a flattening of the lower inside of my left breast.  I was okay for a few months but the lump seemed to get larger.  I had my yearly exam in December and my doctor referred me back to the radiologist for another look.  This time he examined me, he said "is this new?" This was in reference to the flattening.  As you can imagine I was extremely upset as I had brought this to his attention 8 months prior.  Now with another ultrasound, he said "it's a tumor."  I requested an immediate biopsy, which I was given.

January 8th I received a call that it was indeed breast cancer.  The next evening I met with a breast surgeon and it was determined that I would loose my left breast because not only did I have one lump, but there were 2 others.  I was also diagnosed with being Her2+.

Jaunary 17th I had a mastectomy of my left breast, and two weeks later my chemotherapy began.

Today, 9/26/13, I finished my last radiation treatment!!  It's time to celebrate.  I have back some of my freedom.  I am currently still taking Herceptin, which is every 3 weeks and will end next April 2014.  There are a total of 18 Herceptin treatments.

I do not have a history of breast cancer on my mother's side; however, my father's mother did have breast cancer.  Whenever I would be asked about history, physicians were only interested in my mother's side, so I didn't think anymore about my father's family as far as a risk.  I have never smoked, drank alcohol only in moderation, always have eaten healthy, exercised, etc.  I do not fall into any of the noted risk factors.  I was 45 at the time of diagnosis.  I met 3 other women during treatment, all who were in their early 30s.

During my first 4 chemo treatments, the E & C combo, I was never ill.  I took an anti-nausea medication called Emend.  This was taken right before chemo and then the next 2 mornings.  I have read where people are always wanting to know what you ate, how you exercised, etc.  Three to four days after treatment I was able to physically exercise again.  I bought an elliptical to exercise on and gradually started using my handweights, but only the 3 pound ones until I was about 6 months post surgery.  I was also able to walk about 3 miles 3 to 4 times a week as well.  I have lost 20 pounds due to my exercise and diet but not the chemo.  I drank ALOT of water and no alcoholic beverages.  During chemo, I ate a very healthy salad for lunch every day, which I still continue to do.  My salad:  romaine lettuce, spinach leaves, and spring mix.  Chopped walnuts, sunflower seeds, half a chopped tomato, 1/4 chopped cucumber, a handful of chopped black olives, and drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar (a good quality brand) over the top.  Generally I eat a sweet potato with it.  I have read where some recommend cutting out dairy from your diet, but there is no concrete proof.  However, I have mostly done this.  I haven't drank milk in years, but now when I cook with milk, I use coconut milk or almond milk which is non-dairy.  I have cut out almost all sugar unless a recipe calls for it, but I don't drink it in my hot tea or iced tea.  At first it was a taste to acquire, but now if I put sugar in my tea....YUCK!  It doesn't take long to transition your body away from it.  I have almost zero sweets, but that hasn't been a change, I just have never really indulged in sweets.  From time to time as I think of things, I am going to add it to my blog.  So, things may not be in sequence to time but just random thoughts.  I did have 11 lymphnodes removed and I do have full range of motion.  I did have physical therapy for a number of weeks.  A few months of working out with my free weights, I feel, was doing more for me, so I stopped with the PT.  I did have a port put in.  I just didn't want to go thru the trauma of having to have them put the needle in my vein in my arm every time.  I do feel a "pinch" with the needle in the port, but it's pretty quick.  About 3 days after the port was put in, I did have treatment, and that did hurt really bad because I was sore and bruised from the port being put in.  The first chemo, the red stuff, can harm your skin if it touches it, so that alone was reason enough for me to have the port.  I did have the red stuff in my arm vein for the first time.  My veins were always healthy and raised (don't you love my medical terminology?) but after that first injection, my vein was less visible.  I have been told that continued chemo in the arm vein can collapse the vein, and I didn't want that to happen.  The port is UNDER the skin and there is no opening so you can shower, etc.  I'm adding this to my blog because it was so hard to find information out there that didn't scare the heck out of me.  I am a worrier by nature and having been thru this, I hope that I can help someone out there, at some time, that might be like me who could use the extra hand-holding support to get thru this.  Please feel free to post if you have any questions at all and I will do my best to answer any questions you have.

10/07/13 I started my Tamoxifen prescription.  I take 2 pills, one morning and one night, which are 10 mg.  The first day it made me feel nauseous but today, the 8th, it didn't have that affect on me.  Maybe the first day was a shock to my body.  I'm thankful that didn't happen today and I hope will not happen again.  Now I just take the 2 pills together in the morning and have no side effects from them that I am aware of.

Friday is my Herceptin treatment.  I always start feeling anxious.  I don't know why.  I guess it is a reminder that I'm still in the midst of treatment and it is harder to "forget" about it.  Overall, I feel pretty good.

11/12/13 I met with my surgeon; it had been about 4 or 5 months since we last met.  I had a check up since I am finished with all treatment except for herceptin.  He said new studies show that there is benefit to staying on Tamoxifen for 10 years vs 5.  That is fine with me.  Whatever it takes to stay healthy.  I do have aches from it.  I notice when I am lying down that my fingers feel extremely stiff. My doctor said exercise helps, which I do daily.  I get on my elliptical daily for 30 minutes.  It is the best money I have ever spent.  I never tire of it.  Anyway, he said that I am healing very well from surgery and radiation and can look forward to reconstruction in May!  I'm so excited about this.  I am going to have my right breast removed and have an implant put in.  I am not saving the nipple since breast cancer can form there as well.  Maybe a radical choice, but it is my body and this is what I want to do.  I will meet with him again in February, at which time I will be scheduled for a mammogram (I think).  He will send me somewhere else for this since I do not want to see the same dr who did this before, understandably.  Overall, I feel really good physically and emotionally.  I took a while to reach this point.  I feel like I am making all the right decisions with exercise and diet.  I love juicing.  Drinking my green juice most mornings really makes me feel good.

11/21/13  Herceptin tomorrow--my 11th treatment--7 more to go.  Time is really passing much quicker now.  I was thinking the other day that I haven't cried in a very long time now.  I use to cry every day atleast once.  I started crying January 2, and I literally cried every day for 6 months before that started to end.  I didn't know it was possible to cry so much.  I don't really know if it is healing or not.  I started walking 3 miles, 3 to 4 times a week during chemo.  I called them my walks with God.  I would spend the entire hour just talking to God, crying out to him.  I looked up several verses, and I also taped one to my headboard.

Jeremiah 17:14
Heal me Lord and I will be healed
Save me Lord and I will be saved
for you are the one that I praise

I did get some anxiety medication recently; I took one.  I decided to try and not take it.  I have it just in case, but I think I am okay now.  I feel mentally and emotionally stronger.  With the cold weather, I just use my elliptical in the mornings instead of walking outside.  I do that atleast 5 times a week.

12/13/13 I had my 12th Herceptin treatment.  While there, I glanced over my right shoulder to see how much more Herceptin was left in the bag and kind of got startled because there was another bag in addition to the Herceptin!  I did not see them hang that up there.  Apparently things have changed and now they are giving Herceptin with saline.  It kind of scared me not knowing what it was at first.  Oncology is not the place I want to be, so I just scoot in there and out as fast as I can so I can have another 3 weeks of living normal without the thought (if possible) of going back in.  However, 6 more treatments to go and I get reconstruction and this port out.  It really sticks out from my chest, but it is hidden by my clothes.  I always have to wear something that can be pulled over a little so as to not interfere with the needle and tubes.  Two more days till my 46th birthday!

1/3/14 I had my Herceptin today; F I V E more to go!  It was a little emotional for me today.  One of the girls that I have been going through treatment with, she has only one more Herceptin to go.  She has been such a support to me.  Amazingly, going through treatment herself, she has provided such comfort and reassurance to me.  Anyway, I told her how wonderful she has been and I'm so thankful to have met her. With the language barrier, she has been there to translate for me when I haven't understood the nurses or if they didn't understand me.

1/25/14  I had a rough week.  Wednesday afternoon after a shower I noticed a dimpling on my left lower chest area.  I didn't sleep much that night.  The next day I called my surgeon's office and they had me come in for a close look via ultrasound.  Thank you God there was NOTHING at all there.  The doctor told me that my body is healing and going through changes.  Yesterday was my Herceptin treatment and I had to say goodbye to two ladies that I have been going through treatment with.  Familiar faces really, really help you to be able to walk into a place like that.  These ladies, in their own way, have helped me get through my own series of treatments.  I'm down to F O U R treatments left.  Next month I have an appointment with my surgeon and I believe that this time we will be making an appointment for my reconstruction surgery.  Overall I feel really good.  I am maintaining a healthy diet.  I am not consuming hardly any dairy products for the exception of a little cheese if it is required in a recipe.  Where I live, I haven't been able to find any dairy free cheese.  I have read where there is a possible link with dairy and breast cancer, so I am eliminating it from my diet.  I found that I love using coconut or almond milk instead, and recipes taste so much better!  I don't know if the dairy theory is true, and I realize you can drive yourself nuts wants you start looking into what everyone says you should or should not eat.  I have read where women who have gotten BC were vegetarians and never ate meat, etc.  I guess my position on the diet issue is if something can be replaced with something healthier, then that is what I'll do.  I like to eat a variety of meats, so I will continue to do that, but I am trying to add more fish to our diet.

2/14/14 One more Herceptin done, 3 more to go!  Seems like they ran it through me a little faster this time and I felt kind of dizzy afterwards.  However, I did eat breakfast earlier than normal and was already getting hungry by time of treatment, which could have caused that.  They have never told me to make sure I ate before, so I don't know if that is important or not.  I will make sure that I have plenty to eat next time.

2/18/14 I met with my surgeon!  I am scheduled for surgery in May--I can't wait!  I feel very blessed to be getting new boobs after all of this.  Kind of like a prize at the end of the marathon I have just been through for over the past year.  Yes, I am happy to remove my right breast.  Some may not agree, but that is okay.  I look at it and want it gone!  Yes, there is always that possibility that cancer could return in the other breast.  I have family that knows other women who have experienced that years later and had to go through treatment again.  So there is that reason.  Also, I really would like my breasts to match.  I have nursed 3 babies and with age, gravity has taken affect.  I know there is a breast lift option, but I would rather just have it gone and be done with it.  Never would I have ever imagined being a candidate for implants.  I have a large family with many women, all mostly large breasted, and I will be the first (and only I hope) to have to do this.  I'll be a lot smaller as well, but I'm okay with that too.  Once you have had one removed and become accustomed to somewhat of a smaller chest area, anything more is, well, more than what you have had!   Maybe I will be able to jog now with my husband! :)  In the beginning of this, I wondered would I ever find peace and joy and be able to relax without worrying.  Yes, I have.  Worry, stress, anxiety and fear can wreck your mind, body, life...etc.  I don't want to feel like that anymore.  I stay away from the breast cancer boards.  I visited them initially and they would drive my fear.  I would read posts that would help, but for every one that did help, there were others that instilled more fear.  That is why I am keeping this journal.  I hope that the words I have written will help and bring piece of mind.  It does seem like such a long journey when you are at the beginning, but now the weeks are zipping by so fast.  Life has returned and I feel normal again.  I don't sweat the small stuff at all anymore!  Also, I take my time about everything.  I don't want to rush through any task.  If I happen to come across anyone that may not be very nice, I think to myself "I don't know what is going through their head at the moment...or their life."  There were times when I was outside the house where it was all I could do to not crumble.

4/14/14  This is the week!  Thursday the 17th is my last Herceptin treatment---FINALLY.  Upon diagnosis, I couldn't even begin to see this far into the future.  I feel good, I have a nice full head of hair, and I feel happy again.  A little over 5 weeks, my reconstruction surgery will take place, and I will have my right breast removed.  This is my choice and my surgeon is fine with my decision.


Happy Day for me!!!!!!  Treatment is officially over with!

6/05/14  I had my first surgery for reconstruction 5/21/14, which included mastectomy of my right breast and expanders put in both sides.  I spent 1 week in the hospital.  I am not sure of the standard of care for this procedure in the U.S., but here in Germany, my expanders were filled partially during surgery and then twice more before leaving the hospital.  My expanders hold 450cc and my left breast would not stretch for the remaining 40cc.  I will be returning to the hospital the end of June for this. The recovery, for me, has been challenging.  I still am sleeping in the recliner for most of the night.  I have slowly been able to sleep in my own bed for a couple of hours at a time, so I guess that is progress.  My doctor said I can take the band off (a velcro strap that is placed around the chest underneath the arms but above the breast) this weekend.  I hope that will alleviate some discomfort.  I am still take pain medication and have sometimes severe back aches.  I have been using Icy Hot, which is helping.  When I return to see my doctor, if I am stretched enough for a B cup, I am going to ask not to have the additional ccs in my left breast.  I honestly don't want to go through that again if possible.  If not, I will have it done....sigh.  I know once all this is done, it will be well worth it and I will be happy.  However, the recovery is more than I anticipated.

6/30/14  I had my follow-up appointment with my surgeon and he removed the remaining bandages; my scar is nice and thin and healing very well.  I also received the final 50cc in my left breast.  My implant surgery is scheduled for mid October and I'll be receiving implants for a size C. I'm having a little discomfort from the added fluid, but mostly just the feeling of pressure and tightness.  I'm still sleeping in the recliner.  I have tried to sleep lying down, but after all night, I end up with a really bad backache from not being able to move around.

9/20/14  For some reason, having these expanders in my chest seem to be throwing off my depth perception (for lack of a better word).  Maybe because they are up high and out, but I seem to ocassionally hit them with the refridgerator door and I have even hit them at the end of the stairway handrail!  I'll be glad when they are removed on the 14th of October!

10/13/14 Checked into the hospital for implant surgery, which was done the following day.  I am out of the hospital after a 2-night stay, so this recovery is much quicker than the expander surgery.  This time it was nearly pain free with just a little stiffness.  I did have drains this time as well.  I go back next month to have stitches removed.  I also had my port removed!  The doctor said that I can have the nipple procedure in 3 months.  If I understood correctly, skin will be taken from the inner thigh to do that for me.

10/22/14  I am feeling really disappointed with the outcome of my surgery.  One side, the unradiated side, is much larger than the other breast and hangs lower.  I go back to the doctor 3 November.  I hope something can be done to fix this.

Last week I spoke to my doctor and understand now that this is totally normal.  The skin is tight on the radiated side.  The idea is that the skin will relax and the left implant will drop.  It may not ever look the same size as the right, but the closer it gets to it, the better.  However, in clothing, you can't really tell, so I feel much better about it.

12/12/14  I met with the radiologist on my yearly checkup, which was a couple of months late due to my having my implant surgery.  My surgeon told me to wait and that it would be fine.  It was just a quick appointment; I was in and out in 5 minutes.  They just checked visually to see how the skin looked and told me to come back in a year.  I'll be moving next summer, so I will have to find another radiologist to schedule those checkups with.  I was told that my skin looks great!

My nipple reconstruction surgery is next month.

1/12/15 I checked into the hospital for my final phase of breast reconstruction.  The left breast is still smaller in looks than the right, but it is the same implant side.  The radiated breast just wants to hold it in really tight.  The surgeon discussed what he would like to do.  I said, "I don't care, I just want to be done--whatever you think is best."  After surgery, he told me that after he did his "fix," he still was not happy with the results, so at this point, he decided to put in a slightly larger implant on the left side.  He told me by how many ccs, but I forget now.  He corrected an area on my right breast where there was a suture not wanting to dissolve, so he removed that.  Between what he did on the two breasts, he had enough skin to create one nipple, so he only had to do one skin graft for the remaining nipple.  This skin was taken right in the crease of my right leg....where it joins the body.  All I can say is I am thankful I only had this done on the one leg instead of both!  It isn't "painful" but it is uncomfortable when I try to sit or get back up.  It has only been a couple of days though, so there is more healing to be done.  The nipples stay bandaged until I go back for a check up next Tuesday, exactly one week after surgery.  I'm happy that surgeries are now over!

3/19  I had my tattooing done of my left breast area.  This was done to make the skin darker to match the right breast nipple area.  I go back in 6 weeks for a checkup.

5/7/2015  I had my final appointment with my surgeon!  Now all I have to do is have a yearly ultrasound of my uterus as long as I am on Tamoxifen.  He said that I will be on it 5 years minimum, probably 10 years, but my next doctor may decide to put me on something else if I am in menopause. I will be moving back to the U.S. in August, so I will not see my surgeon here again.

Do I like having implants?  Actually, I do.  I can run for the first time in my life without a bounce!  It is enjoyable to run.  I don't miss the real thing at all.  However, I do miss that there is no feeling, but that isn't a big deal to me.  Just something that is different.  When I was preparing for nipple construction, one thing that concerned me was the thought that they would perpetually stick out like pencil erasers!  ha ha  I'm happy to report that they do not.  They are soft and obviously are not effected by the cold, so they are not sticking out through the bra and t-shirt.

Another unexpected blessing was that my hair grew in thicker than it ever was before.  It continues to be healthy and growing very fast.  My hair would never grow fast or get very long before I had to have it cut.  I'm letting it grow!

In hindsight, I wish I would not have cried so much.  I wish I had been given anxiety medication.  It was far to hard to control my emotional state.  It would have been far better to be on some kind of anxiety medication for me and those around me.

Can you be happy again?  You bet!!  It is HARD to go through this.  Everyone deals with something like this in their own way.  Slowly, you will get beyond the fear.  My surgeon says now it is time for me to forget and he says I will.  I believe that I am beginning to.  I has been nearly 2 and a half years since my diagnosis.

Do I worry about anything?  Never about the small stuff.  That stuff use to worry me all the time, seriously.  It has to be a pretty big thing now to make me pause.  People use to tell me how I would gain a greater appreciation for life.  I use to think, "I already did appreciate life before!"  My sister passed away at the age of 24 from complications with her pregnancy.  That was back in 1986.  I was a senior in high school.  So I had a pretty good idea that there were no guarantees in life and to appreciate it.  That event in my life steered me away from going to college, sadly.  However, I DO appreciate every moment.  I appreciate and thoroughly immerse myself in my cup of hot tea every morning.  That brings me great pleasure.  I just hope I can instill some of what I have learned with my children and how they navigate through their lives.

My thoughts on chemo.....Don't let it make you afraid.  I had envisioned what I saw in the movies. It's not like that.  I don't know if it is for anyone, but there are antinausea meds and they WORK!  The only thing that was making me feel like I was going to puke was my nerves....not the chemo.  The hairloss is temporary.  Let me say again....IT IS TEMPORARY.  Not all chemo makes you loose your hair.  The hard stuff makes it come off.  SHAVE IT so you don't see it fall out.  The worst part of that is you feel cold.  Let me say enjoy that feeling because chemo puts you in menopause and never ending hot flashes.  Rarely am I ever cold.  I won't wear a hat now.  Been there and done that. I did not like wearing a wig at all.  I just didn't feel like "me."  That will be an individual thing though.  My insurance paid for it, so it didn't hurt to try it.  I was more comfortable in scarves and hats and big earrings.  I had the rough chemo 4 times, once every 3 weeks.  My hair started coming in once I was off.  I was still on chemo, but a different kind.  So, you are not without your hair for long. Just a couple of months.  In the grand scheme of things, don't not do chemo because of your hair. Wouldn't you gladly shave it off if you were in a movie?  That is what I thought.  Women do that.

Bad hair days do not exist for me anymore.  I know what it is like to live without hair.

Sincerely,

Shirley





2 comments:

  1. Hi Shirley, I had no idea you were going through all of this. I guess I was so wrapped up in what was going on with us that I didn't pay attention. I am sending some major good vibes, prayers and hugs your way! It sounds like your treatment has gone well so far and I am very impressed with what you have done with exercise and nutrition. J and I have talked about really looking in to diet to see if it can help his cancer but we haven't made any big changes yet. He is taking anxiety meds and it has made a huge difference in his outlook. A cancer diagnosis is terrifying and there is no shame in needing some help to cope. Just my two cents :) Anyway, much, much love to you. I hope you guys have a wonderful Christmas.

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    1. Thank you Liza Jane! Live Strong has information about healthy living during/after cancer. I wish I had been given anxiety meds during chemo; it would have helped me out so much. There were so many days of just pure, bottom out depression for me. I kept sewing through it all though. In the beginning my hands would just shake and I would tire. I wondered if my sewing ability would ever return. I could not have made it through this without my husband and children. One of my daughters in particular would come out with some of the most profound things to say. I really believe that God was using her to help me. She even told me that God told her that her Momma was going to be okay. Thank you so much for your kind thoughts and prayers. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you! I'm thankful that this year is almost over. :) However, there have been some really good things to come about this year too, and that I have to remember as well.

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