Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ahead of my time...

I haven't posted in a while, so I figured it's about time I wrote something again. So here go a few random thoughts.

Cancer-wise I continue to do well. As you can see on the counter on the top of this blog, I have now made it more than 900 days past my cancer diagnosis, and there is no evidence of disease of that pesky TNBC. Yipee!

Of course I cannot help following the medical literature to see what new and awesome things scientists have discovered (still hoping for a cure!). So just today, I ran into this very interesting note/article saying that scientists have now figured out a way of preventing early menopause and possibly premature ovarian failure in young women with breast cancer. Way to go! It just makes me feel that I am a bit too far ahead of my time...

Note to self: Next time, be more reasonable and wait until ripe old age before contracting major disease. No need really to hurry and jump in prematurely, at a tender age, as I did. Now I only need to figure out how to get my body to listen to myself...

As I continue to adjust to my new post-cancer normal, I also follow along a select group of breast cancer blogs to see how those brave ladies are doing. Sadly, some of them have since died, while others have found out that their cancer not only recurred, but spread. One of them recently posted about a really poignant cartoon about cancer treatment, outlook, and prognosis. So here is my own take on it.

Despite all of the sympathy and support that I have received from so many of you (and thank you, thank you so much for that!), I have often had the feeling that despite your best intentions, others really cannot fully understand/appreciate the unique challenges of this "new post-cancer normal." Actually, I am very happy that you lack the experiences that would allow you have a first-hand insight into cancer life -- and I hope that it continues to remain that way. If you know first-hand, I'm very sorry for you. In any case, you blissful folks really should check out this cartoon - careful though, it may be thought-provoking...

Are these enough random thoughts for you? Or at least random enough thoughts?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

All is well -- two years of NED!

Well, I had this nice, long post all typed up -- and then my attempt to replace one word with another zapped it... So bye-bye to my original post. Here comes the shortened, second version.

The good news is that my post-surgery recovery continues to go well. No more allergy issues, just a good bit of fatigue and some pain still. Both are getting better, though. I took the doggie for a nice long walk today, so both of us can get back into shape. Now all I need to do is get over those pesky remnants of chemo brain...

I'm still not allowed to do any lifting or real workouts, so for the time being I continue to be limited in my physical abilities. Sorry, folks, no housework. Can I have a housecleaner, please?

I went to my six month regular checkup with the poison man this week. He was very happy with me, saying I was doing "as well as we could have hoped." That's excellent news: two years of NED!!! This is particularly critical with TNBC, as most recurrences/metastasis happens in the first two to three years. After five years, the recurrence rate for TNBC gals even drops way below that of other breast cancers. So NED so far is a very, very encouraging sign.

Still, there are a few open issues. The pathologist found "no evidence of prior biopsies" in the 390g of tissue that used to be my breast. I find that problematic, as I know I had two previous biopsies, both of which were marked with a 1-2 mm titanium clip. Shouldn't they have found those??? Well, after the two surgeons dismissed my worries, the poison man took me seriously and asked the pathologist to locate those clips. If they don't show up in the excised tissue, we'll go hunt for them inside my body. They'd better find them -- because, in the words of Woody Allen, "just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean that there is nobody after me!"

In the meantime, though, I am enjoying and celebrating that I am NED! May it stay that way for a long, long time to come...!!!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Great week

What a great week this has been. Not only did my boob man remove my drain on Monday, which meant that I got to take my very first post-surgery shower on Wednesday morning, but on Friday I even had my stitches out. I am healing nicely! Better yet, on Thursday I went to the butcher for my post-surgery appointment with him and received a copy of the final pathology report. I am very happy to report that there was no evidence of malignancy evident in e removed tissue. Yay!!!

Thus the only real complications so far came in the form of terribly itchy little bumps that appeared first on my left foob, near the burn mark from an electrocautery knife that miraculously appeared after the surgery, then around the former drain site, and finally around the actual scar. The boob man's PA initially thought it was a fungal infection brought on by bacitracin, but I noticed that those bumps appeared a while after they would put one of those fancy new non-stick gauze pads on me with this new, clear tape. So now it looks as though I am allergic titular newfangled pad things. Go figure, yet another allergy. Moisturizer, e occasional application of a topical antihistamine, and careful avoidance of the possible sources of this allergy have much improved the situation from angry red to flesh color.

Another little issue arose around the center of my nipple (sorry if this is TMI, just skip the rest of this paragraph...) which apparently isn't getting enough blood. So it has necrotized/scabbed over, and apparently will fall off. While this has me feeling slightly alarmed, I have been able to control my anxiety until I see the final result. Overall, though, I am happy with the relative symmetry and general appearance of my boob man's handiwork. As of right now, my right foob still looks like it has approximately 100 ml more volume than my left one, but the surgeon assures me that this is due to residual swelling that ought to subside soon.

Today is the first day that I have been off my hard-won prescription painkillers. Yippee! Only over the counter stuff is needed at this point. It's nice not to be 'doped up' any more... I never could understand the supposed thrill of those pills. I never did like them, except for the fact that they take away the pain. If it weren't for that, I wouldn't even consider taking them. So why are those docs so worried I might actually get addicted to those pills? It's not like I ever showed any signs of addiction during my seven previous surgeries.

Well, anyway. I am very happy to report that this time around, recovery is much easier for me than it was the first time. this has been a great week for me as I have healed an regained quite a bit of strength, range of motion, and stamina. I have been out with my mom several times, met some work obligations, and spent some quality time with my mom. What a great week... Hope yours was equally good!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The luxury of recovering at home

Oh, what a joy and a luxury it is to be recovering at home! I am so glad to have escaped the noise and bustle of the hospital to recover in the comfort of my own home, under the tender, loving care of my mom and with the doggie curled up by my side.

I have been healing nicely, with my pain pretty well controlled by medication most of e time. While the pain meds work, I feel pretty swell, actually. When it's about an hour until I get to take the next pain pill, though, I sometimes wish the wait weren't quite that long. Without pain medication I would be quite uncomfortable. So it's a good thing to have those little magic pills that make the pain vanish.

Tis time around, the incisions seem to be much smaller than I expected them to be. They are healing nicely, although the presence of a surgical drain is always a bit uncomfortable. But it's tolerable. This morning the drain got clogged, though, and wouldn't reinflate after I stripped it. An hour's worth of milking and stripping later, the drain finally opened up again, and the serum color actually started changing from angry red to soothing pale straw. Sorry if this is TMI, but this color change is a good sign. Just in case you wanted to know...

So I am feeling pretty good overall. My mom, the dog, and I went for a nice stroll along the beach promenade today. It was the first warm and sunny day and I enjoyed the warm breeze off the sea and the smell of the briny deep. I even had the energy to stop by the grocery store afterwards. That's not too shabby for being only three days post-surgery!

The things that bother me the most at this point include the drain discomfort, tenderness at the site where the IV was, tenderness where some careless surgeon burned me with an electrocautery knife (two spots, one on my left foob and one on my left shoulder -- I'd really like to know how that happened...), and painkiller-related digestive discomfort. All in all these are relatively minor issues, though. I really cannot complain too much.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I'm baaaack!

Back home that is, ladies and gentlemen. As I had hoped, by Tuesday night the hospital was ready to send me home. Yes, apparently that is what too many wisecracks can do for a gal.

Until this morning I had issues with nausea, but a timely dose of Zofran helped me get over that and I managed to keep down my morning oatmeal. From that moment on, I improved rapidly as my pump was once again primed and my body could take nourishment.

Later in the day they took me off the Dilaudin pump, and also the saline since I could keep down liquids. Thus freed from my tethers I grabbed DH and together we enjoyed seven rounds of strolling around the entire general surgery station while making sure that as many nurses as possible observed my energy and feistiness. I spent the afternoon sitting with my mom, chatting and crocheting while waiting for the nurse to get the doctors to actually, physically sign off on thhe discharge they had promised me earlier in the morning (with the caveat, of course, that I had to be able to keep food down first...). By 6:30 the deed was finally done. I had done my teachback of emptying and "stripping" the surgical drain, reviewed my medication reconciliation sheet with the nurse, and received a parting gift of a pneumonia vaccine for good measure.

And now I am happily back home again, where things are comfy and mercifully quiet, and where the dog comes to snuggle up with me. No more blood pressure, temperature and oxygenation level checks every four hours. No more open bedroom doors facing a brightly lit hallway. No more roommates that are taken to the room at midnight. No more last batch of IV antibiotics that clot up the vein. Just good, old-fashioned care and recovery at home.

Thank you again to all of you who have helped carry me not only through my general cancer journey, but specifically this surgery on this big wave of love and support. I couldn't have done as well as I did without you!

I haven't had the time nor energy to answer individual emails in the past few days -- sorry about that. As I am now recovering at home I hope to catch up with that email backlog soon, so please bear with me. I'll be baaack...

Yipee, this may really be the last TNBC-related surgery!

The news is all good. This really may be my eighth, and final final TNBC-related surgery. The nipple-sparing mastectomy part of the surgery went well, as did the immediate reconstruction. So this time around, I woke up with an even chest, not a terribly lopsided one. Hooray!

This time around, I also insisted on better pain control, which I eventually received. On the upside, I have no cramping and very little pain this time around. There is a downside, though, as the better pain meds make me pretty nauseous so that despite a mix of anti-nausea meds, I have not yet been able to keep down any food. I'm waiting for breakfast this morning and hoping that today's attempt at consuming food and actually metabolizing it will be more successful than yesterday's.

Yesterday afternoon I go up already and sat in a chair for a while. Since last night I've been walking to the bathroom (with a nurse present, for safety) when I needed to. I'm progressing well on that front and plan to go cruising the hallways today to become officially ambulatory.

The big goal is to be allowed to go home tonight. Other than my nausea, I am progressing well towards that goal, but unless I manage to keep down food, they will not let me go. So keep your fingers crossed...

Monday, March 14, 2011

DH report,

Both surgeries went fine! First, the oncologist came out after two hours to tell me that his part was finished and that the frozen sections (a rapid, initial test for cancer-like cells) was negative. Two hours later the plastic surgeon emerged to tell me that it appears that the reconstruction was completed today and that we won't need a follow-up surgery. When the patient is feeling up to it, she will add more effusive and enlightening comments.

Mastectomy day is here!

So we got up, I forget exactly when, but the technical term, I'm pretty sure, is "way before the crack of dawn" and drove to the hospital. As I am typing this, I am in the same day admitting waiting area and DH just came in after parking the car. We are all geared up and ready to go.

The last week has been a whirlwind of sorts, as I have been trying to get ready, get some spring cleaning done before I can no longer lift my arms, and tie up loose ends. My mom flew in on Saturday and has helped out tremendously already. But I've been very busy, so I haven't managed to reply to all those loving and supportive messages I have received. So let me say thank you here instead. I really, really appreciate the wonderful support from my awesome family and friends! Thank you SO much. I feel as though I am riding a big old wave of love and comfort into this surgery. This time around, the mastectomy has me nowhere near as nervous as the first time.

So soon it shall be my final goodbye to boob(s) -- and hello to all silicone!

DH will post the first post-surgery update, and I will follow up when I feel good enough. Thanks again for all of your kind and loving support. So here it goes... Peace and out.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

As we thought, pathology was benign

There is good, though expected, news regarding the pathology report from that fibroma I had removed two weeks ago. I received a call from the butcher today, informing me that not only was he able to remove the entire thing, but that it was benign as we thought. So that is good news all around, and certainly important news to receive! Yay, one more strange growth on my body turned out to be benign! It still makes me wonder, though, why my body is apparently so good at growing things that don't belong...

Anyway, next week I will have my various pre-surgical appointments for the prophylactic mastectomy on the 14th, so that will keep me busy. Besides, I have some stuff I want to wrap up before the surgery, as I know that I won't be able to do certain things for a while. Plus, since my mom is flying in next weekend to help take care of me for the first two weeks after surgery (DH will have to work, and work late, too), I have to get the house cleaned and ready for that. Yay for moms that swoop in to help out their kids! It's wonderful to have so much support... Thanks, mom!

So I'm gradually getting ready for the big surgery. I even have a mastectomy buddy this time around, fellow TNBC gal Julie who received her diagnosis just a few weeks ago and is scheduled for a double mastectomy the same day and time as I am (although hers will take place in an entirely different city). The idea is to stay in touch and give each other encouragement and support. Since this is my second mastectomy, I already have some experience with what is likely to happen and hope to be able to share some tips with Julie as we recover. If you feel so inclined, stop by Julie's blog at and drop her some words of encouragement as she proceeds through her TNBC journey.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Quickie surgery update

This is just a quick note to let you know that my little warm-up surgery this morning went fine. The butcher removed a fibroma from my ahem, derrière if you must know. Other than a little delay in the morning (not sure why that happened, but I was definitely there on time) everything went smoothly. I spent the day resting and am just about ready to turn in now, as we got up at five a.m. this morning. Needless to say I'm a bit tired.

For those of you who do not yet know, I call this my "warm-up surgery" because I have scheduled a prophylactic mastectomy for March 14. For one thing, I am tired of waiting for biopsies and their results. For another, due to my initial experience with core biopsies, which are essentially sampling procedures, and the false negative it produced (i.e., the pathology report claimed the lesion wasn't cancer when in reality it was -- they simply hadn't obtained a truly representative sample), I never quite fully trust their results.

What is even more important to me, though, is that a study that came out last year showed that while a prophylactic mastectomy of the unaffected breast doesn't provide any survival benefits for most cancer patients, women under 50 who had stage I or II estrogen receptor negative breast cancer (hey, that's ME all over) were the only subgroup that did benefit significantly, increasing their survival rate by almost five percentage points over five years. If you are interested, you can read the study here. Anyway, increasing survival seems like a very good thing to me -- I'm greedy that way, you know! Plus, it seemed like the appropriate way to celebrate my two year cancerversary.

So my mind is made up, and the big surgery is scheduled. Just wanted to get this fibroma thing out of the way, first. The overwhelming odds are that this fibroma is just that, a benign (though somewhat annoying) growth that likes to afflict my delicate rear end. But the main thing is that it is gone now, meaning that I should soon be returning to my usual cheekiness.

Ok, I'll lay off the bad puns now, I promise. As I said, all is well here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The biopsy results are in

Today my wait was finally over as the biopsy results are in. Assuming that the doctor obtained a representative sample during the procedure (and as I unfortunately know all too well, this could be an erroneous assumption), the news is good. The pathologist says the tissue shows only benign changes. I vaguely remember the nurse who called me saying something about "ductal stroma" and "hyperplasia" but with my chemo-battered brain's short term memory problems, I'm not sure until I see a copy of the written report. In any case, apparently the pathologist saw no signs of cancer in the sample, which is definitely a good thing.

Nonetheless, I am only guardedly optimistic, as I've heard this kind of thing before and it was a false negative back then. So I am still contemplating having a prophylactic mastectomy on the right side. I just don't know how many more false alarms and unnecessary biopsies I can take. Having long, thick needles shoved into very sensitive body parts just isn't that much fun for me, and neither is waiting for the biopsy.

But at least there is no urgent news for further surgery, and no other treatment imminent. I am very, very grateful for that!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The fun just never ends...

So I hadn't posted in a while, hoping that all that cancer stuff was slowly but surely behind me, despite the occasional scares and worries. But then, with cancer, the fun never really ends...and I sure got a reminder of that.

In late December, I went to my annual mammo and sono. The weekend before, I had noticed some tenderness in my one remaining boob, and felt a funny, hardened area when I checked out the sore spot. So I was sure to let the technicians and doctors know about it when I went for my routine appointment. The mammo came back clear. Initially, the soon looked clear, as well. But since I had noticed something there, the radiologist gave me a breast exam (though she couldn't feel anything abnormal) and checked the area with the ultrasound over and over.

Well, and if you check thing out thoroughly enough -- you guessed it! -- you eventually find something. In this particular case, a one centimeter suspicious mass. This, of course, meant that they immediately scheduled me for a core biopsy. Due to the holidays, the first available date I could get for that was today. Oh the fun wait over the holidays is just hard to describe.

Anyway, I went for my biopsy today and what fun it was. At first the radiologist tried an aspiration, just in case it was a cyst. It wasn't, so she moved on to the core biopsy. I was grateful that she numbed me up pretty thoroughly, but still it wasn't exactly a walk in the park. Apparently it was really close to the chest wall and tough to get to, so I had to reposition myself and roll over the examination table several times, all while they have some nice large needles shoved into my boob. Oh, did i mention that as soon as they were done shoving needles into me they noticed that i was nicely red and flushed? No crash cart this time, just a Benadryl and then it was off to the mammo confirming the placement of the clip that now marks the biopsy site, and finally a few extra minutes of observation with the nurse. As I said, the fun just never seems to end...

I am resting comfortably now, icing the sore area for about fifteen minutes every hour and taking it easy.

Now it's on to the post-biopsy wait, with results expected in 3-4 days. Since I assume we're talking working days here, I guess that means sometime early next week. Keep fingers crossed...!