Sunday, August 30, 2015

Thanks For the Mammaries

We had almost finished our book club a couple of Saturdays ago when my daughter and granddaughter came in bringing a "Boob Voyage" party.

We played several games, made a lot of silly boob jokes only women can make or appreciate, and said goodbye to my left breast. Don't want to get maudlin about it, but it has served me well and I've always appreciated it. At the end of the party, my daughter brought out a little poster of the appropriate character from The Lion King doing the hula: It means no worries for the rest of your days... It's a problem-free philosophy... Hakuna M' Tatas. (Don't know where my kids got their bizarre sense of humor--surely not from me.)

After the procedure, the surgeon told me she had to take one lymph node in the armpit. She also found a patch of muscle about the size of a half dollar under the tumor itself which was inflamed, so she took that, too. My family says when I came out of surgery I told them my pain level was a seven on a scale of one to ten. I don't remember that, but when I finally fully woke up in my room I called it a two, and by evening I felt no pain at all, which surprised everyone but me. I always recover quickly. Since then I've felt the tenderness and an occasional stinging sensation when I put pressure on it, like pushing against the arms of a chair to stand up, but I'm still pain-free. I have about a seven-inch horizontal incision where my breast was, and a drain implanted somewhere in my armpit. A little "grenade" at the end of the drain tube catches the fluid, and I have to empty it a couple a times a day, whenever it gets full and record the amount of fluid being siphoned off. It's a plastic bulb that fits in a little pocket on the left side.

Nurses were good. As new ones came on duty and old ones introduced me to the incoming crew, I told them I like my water room-temperature and my door closed. For the most part they remembered.

Being without leg wraps allowed blisters of cellulitis to develop but the fellow from wound care found some compression socks he could pull on to protect the temporarily bandaged wounds. My husband arranged for the fellow from the dermatologist's office to come to the house and re-wrap my legs, which he did as soon as we got home Friday morning. I'm also on antibiotics again.

And I'm on oxygen. Levels in my blood weren't high enough, so they got that all organized for me to have tanks to use when I left the house. They are big and cumbersome and make me not want to go out very much. By simply pulls oxygen out of the air the main machine purifies it for my personal consumption. Moving around with a walker and 50 yards of tubing can really get your knickers in a twist... or your cord in a tangle.

Since I'm not going to church today, I'm just sitting here singing "I left my left breast in American Fork Hospital..." and trying to make it fit the rhythm. Not working too well. It's hubby's birthday today and daughter's tomorrow so we're celebrating by having dinner together later today. Hope I have an appetite by then.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Certainty of Uncertainty

After our thoroughly pleasant vacation at the Oregon coast in July, I came home to finish three more chemotherapy treatments and face an issue I hadn't wanted to confront before: prognosis.

Since the PET scan revealed that the cancer is greatly reduced, I relaxed a little more, but I know what "inflammatory breast cancer" means. It's only five percent of all breast cancers, no one my age ever gets it, and and it's most common only in black women in their 50s.  I told the oncologist that makes me feel "special." However, we still have a long, hard fight. He gave me an anti-hormone drug, Arimidex, because this kind of cancer is hormone driven and killing the hormones at the source will choke off the supply of cancer cells flowing to the spots where it has metastasized.

So far I'm supporting several doctors in my efforts to control and manage this disease--oncologist; surgeon; dermatologist (cellulitis wraps on my shins apply compression that helps keep the swelling down); podiatrist (thickening and yellowing nails); plus lymphedema therapist, medical supply store, and massage therapist (just because she makes my back feel better). Wow--the upkeep on the human body never ends!

Side effects I'm dealing with: neuropathy in my feet and hands (painful, burning sensation most of the time, but sometimes my feet feel like they're sucking cold up out of the floor); lymphedema (left arm especially holding water, probably because the cancer is on the left side, and the compression sleeve isn't helping much; carrying around a lot of water weight and haven't discovered the magic key or cookie or whatever Alice in Wonderland discovered to get herself out of tight spots; cellulitis leaks when feet and legs swell); diarrhea (haven't identified the triggers, but I know watermelon is one); disfunctional taste buds (sweet stuff is intensely sweet, most things taste bitter or bland, and very few things taste good, all of which is manageable because I don't have much of an appetite anyway); dry hacking cough from the Arimidex; pain in my back that doesn't show up until two hours after I've gone to sleep, so I have to get up and sleep the rest of the night in a chair, which is bad for the edema because my feet need to be elevated to keep the swelling down; finger and toe nails tender, thickening and yellowing; hair growing back but falling out again because of the new drug; ongoing fatigue.

Thus, the misery quotient is high. I love it when people visit, however, because it takes my mind off that stuff, and seeing friends and family always energizes me.

When I saw the surgeon, we talked over the options (i.e. do we or don't we) and I said, "Well, the Bible says that 'if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.'" She didn't quite understand, so I clarified: "Likewise, if thy breast offend thee, pluck it out." She hadn't heard that sort of reasoning before. We scheduled the surgery for next Wednesday, the 26th. I'll be in the hospital two nights. She is hopeful that by removing the tumor and affected glands we can encourage the other treatments to be more efficient and the unaffected lymph glands to do their job. Depending on the pathology report, she said radiation is also a possibility. And if that goes well and the pathology suggests it would be helpful, the oncologist said he may even recommend more chemo later on.

That doesn't change the prognosis (two to five years, the oncologist says) but it doesn't account for the "X" factor--stubbornness. Lots of cancer survivors are still walking around 20 years later when they were given only a few months. My neighbor lived 15 years with pancreatic cancer in remission.

So I keep doing what I do, enjoying life, and loving my family. I'll soon start editing my third book, which is coming out this fall. It takes about two weeks to prepare the raw manuscript for publication, and it involves lots of tedious details and meeting deadlines, but I love the process and look forward to it. Then I have another series to put out there, and family histories to write, and etc. etc. I'm too busy to get slowed down by cancer.