I've been thinking about this thread for a long time and when I finish with this post, you'll understand.
As many of you know, in early October 2015 I had to have some rather complex surgery on my right heel. Columbus Day was that red-letter day and I've recovered completely, thanks to an expert surgeon and the care of a loving husband. To say nothing of "The Blue Streak," my little knee scooter that allowed me to get around for the 3 months I wasn't allowed to walk. Handy little device and I don't know what I would've done without it.
Because of the timing of my heel surgery I had to move up all my annual medical check-ups. I usually have everything done near the middle/end of October. But, since I knew I was going to be sort of disabled at that time, I moved all my appointments up to the beginning of the month. That's when my adventure began.
All my physical checks and labs were good but...my mammogram came back with "irregularities." Never had that before, so back I went for more intense evaluations, which were not the most fun I've ever had.
Unfortunately, the results were "cancer." Now...
I had some decisions to make and this was only 3 days before my heel surgery. I opted for a lumpectomy, which occurred a few weeks after the heel surgery.
During the lumpectomy the surgeon also removed a lymph node to determine how widespread the cancer had become. Yes, the node was involved. Next step was another surgery to remove more lymph nodes, further out, to continue with the discovery as to how the cancer had spread.
Thankfully, NONE of the many lymph nodes that were removed showed any signs of cancer. Good news.
Okay, now, since my heel surgery I have now undergone 3 surgeries and, as I was informed, I wasn't done yet.
Unfortunately, after the two breast surgeries, both the incisions split open hours after the staples were removed and I had to go back to be put back together again. As if that wasn't enough, a huge hematoma developed and that had to be surgically relieved.
Thankfully, none of the procedures, including my heel, had any real pain, so I didn't have to rely on anything stronger than a baby aspirin to relive my discomfort. I say baby aspirin because I'm allergic to virtually any prescription pain medication. The only thing left is morphine but I haven't had to resort to that.
I was, in my estimation, given a "sales pitch" that a port
had to be surgically implanted in my left chest, just below my collar bone. Why, I asked?
Again, sales pitch, because it would make it more comfortable for me to receive chemotherapy and for the medical personnel to draw blood, etc. without having to disturb my veins. Sounded good and wasn't meant to be permanent, just for my cancer treatment as long as that was to last.
So, in mid-January I was back in the operating room having the port implanted. The port is a sore point and I don't mean bodily discomfort. I'm very disgusted at how that was handled and pushed.
So...the port has been implanted and the doctor has given me a "plan." He related that the cancer had been discovered at a very early stage and that I would require only 4 chemotherapy sessions and no radiation. Sounded positive to me and the only step left was to select an oncology center and an oncologist to treat me. Didn't seem like an impossible task but, as it turned out, such things in my area are scarce as hen's teeth.
After weeding out those who weren't seeing patients because of pending retirement, others who had less than positive patient reviews, several who were not in our insurance network and a few who were, in miles, on another planet, we found one who practiced about 18 miles from our home. Turned out he is/was the perfect choice. Well-qualified, experienced, well-liked, respected, etc.
Three days after the port implantation I had my first chemotherapy session, which went well. I didn't have any reaction to the two medications I was given. Never did. No time along the way did I ever get sick, have stomach issues, bowel problems, nothing showing up in my throat or mouth...nothing. Except for the words written on the doctor's folder, I wouldn't have been able to say I was being treated for breast cancer.
The only other indicator that I was being treated for the disease is that on January 31 I began to lose my long hair. It was about to the middle of my back. By February 3, I had NO hair. My head was as smooth as a baby's bottom and remains so. I expected to lose my hair but I didn't imagine it would all be gone in 4 days. I've been wearing wigs and have become an expert at fashioning colorful scarves into elaborate turban-like head coverings. And, oh, I saved my hair and put it out in mesh bags for the birds to use as nest material this spring.
The only glitch I have experienced with my hair loss is that I had to renew my drivers license on Thursday. Our state has a rule that no headbands, bandanas, hats, etc. can be worn for the photograph. My wigs DO NOT reflect my normal hair color or style. I called the clerk's office last week to inquire about what to do. She said that, in cases like mine, it is acceptable to wear my scarf, which I did.
Back to the port. I feel as though I was given a "bait and switch" here. By the time I approached my third chemotherapy session, I was having a terrible reaction to the port. Constant pain from the beginning, in spite of the fact that I was told the pain would go away after about 3 weeks of its implantation. Never did. Increased, then began to swell and then...started to itch like a son-of-a-gun. To the point that, one day, I took my now unused hairbrush and scrubbed the heck out of the site. I could barely stand it. It hurt 24/7 and I was getting no sleep at all. I functioned like a zombie. Aside from all this, blood had been drawn 14 times...never from the port. Always a vein. The port had only been used 3 times, for chemotherapy. I even asked the oncology center staff and was never given a definitive reply.
Enough!! It's my body. On March 2, I had it removed. I didn't care what the oncologist would say, I had to have some relief...and some sleep. That night I slept for 14 hours straight. I think Glenn was ready to put a mirror up to my mouth to see if I was breathing. I slept like this for 5 days until I finally recovered some of my rest.
Went back 10 days later to have the staples removed. Everything looked good. The next morning, as I sat up to get out of bed, the incision blew open and I was awash with built-up fluid. Back to the surgeon to be put back together again. This happened twice. When it happened a third time, I didn't even bother going back to see the doctor. I'd had it. Let it heal the way it will. It's finally healed, but there is a port-shaped lump of scar tissue where the port was.
When I say I'm disgusted about the port, I'm not simply unhappy with what I've already noted, I am not pleased that, I feel, I was unnecessarily anesthetized TWICE and have had to incur an expense for both surgeries. All told, the combined expense of both procedures exceeded $30,000, which equates to $10,000 per each chemotherapy use. Now, granted, I didn't have to pay that full amount but, trust me, someone paid it.
I finished my last chemotherapy session on March 21, administered with no problem in a vein, and have been returning to the oncology center for regular monitoring since then. First, at one month and, now, at two months, which will be the first week in July. Don't know the plan after that.
The most problematic issue I had during the chemo was maintaining my white blood count. It inevitably went down to next to nothing after each session and, as a result, I was given injections to boost the level back. Fortunately, I never had to be transfused. The oncologist prescribed a diet very high in protein as further maintenance. For the entire time of my chemotherapy I was instructed to eat 2 1/2 eggs every morning for breakfast. Needless to say, I became an expert in ways to prepare eggs. And, I am convinced, when my hair returns, it won't be hair at all...feathers instead.
Testing was done initially to determine if I had the breast cancer gene and the test returned that I did not. That's good news for my only biological daughter. Other tests showed that I am known as a 100% estrogen receptor, which dictated the drug the doctor has prescribed for me to take for a minimum of 5 and up to 10 years from now. He said that in all his years of practice, he's never seen anyone who tested at 100%. Lucky me.
I'm giving the medication a good try but the side effects are becoming a bit problematic. I'm hoping my body will adjust and I can continue to take it. However, we did have a discussion about the drug before he prescribed it. I asked if there was an alternative if I couldn't tolerate the side effects. Happily, there is, but I'm still going to give it a shot until my July appointment.
In the meantime, I await the return of my hair. I don't miss so much shaving my legs and underarms, but I'd like to complain again about having my hair fall in my eyes. On the plus side, I'm spending less on shampoo and conditioner and showering goes faster.
A surprising thing happened, which I should've realized but didn't, was that during this pollen season I was particularly sneezy, congested, etc. I accidentally discovered the reason one morning as I was applying my make-up. As I was tipping my head back to put on mascara, I realized I could really, really see up my nose...practically to my brain.
NO nose hair. I was reacting to allergy season because I had no natural filter. Whoda thunk? Well, it IS hair! Never occurred to me.
My heel is 100% all better and I thank the surgeon in Nashville for being so understanding and cooperative. Because of my breast cancer situation I was not able to make more than one or two return visits to him for his care and couldn't manage any physical therapy. He was kind enough, and confident enough in me, to provide me with a sheet of exercises and instructions that I could do at home. I followed his directions to the letter and my heel feels better than it has in several years. I have full functionality and no pain. Yeah!!
I have to say that my breast cancer diagnosis was more than a surprise to me. I have ALWAYS had my annual mammograms, ALWAYS done my monthly self-exams, done everything one is supposed to do, yet...
Guess that's the luck of the draw. Of course, I felt like I'd been hit by a bus when the doctor sat across the table from me and said, "You have breast cancer." I walked out of his office in a fog of disbelief and thought I had to be experiencing a very bad dream.
Of course, I went through all manner of emotions. I cried. I got angry, but at whom? Didn't matter. I was a ball of emotions initially and they all surfaced. Then I got determined, which is why I entitled this post the way I did.
I have always worn a silver chain around my neck with "special" charms on it, all having to do with important events/people in my life. Days after I got my diagnosis, I put a medallion on my necklace that says, "She believed she could, so she did." That's been mostly how I've lived my life and it has always held me in good stead. I'm just tough, stubborn Irishman and I'm loathe to giving up.
I offer this post as an explanation of why I have been less than active here at DC. I've been busy with "life" and am getting back to it. The only residual effects I notice are that I get tired more easily, so I go a little slower and take a nap when I feel like it. I'm not a daytime sleeper, but I rest, which does me just as good.
I didn't think it was necessary to share any of my journey until I was on this side of it. It is important to me to be positive and not appear to expect sympathy. I'm fine and will continue to be fine. I'm not done yet.
I just had a birthday and I plan to have many more. 70 is just at my feet and my goal is to make it a memory.
For my friends here who knew some of my situation, thank you for your kind support and sweet words. They are forever burned into my heart.
DC is an amazing family. I know. Your collective arms and hearts helped me when Buck died.
Thank you all!! I'll try to get back on my horse and get up to speed.