My cancer saga started when I was diagnosed at 38 with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. I have a twisted sense of humor and have tried to continue that laughter and optimism on my journey...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Surprise...

Episode XCI - move along just to make it through


Well crap... I am off to do a biopsy!




Here's the biopsy back story...

Almost two weeks ago when I was going to bed and took off my bra... there was a funky swollen spot. An oddly oval raised spot on the lower inside part of my breast. Even though it is on the same breast, it was not located anywhere near my original cancer location. Great?!?!

Seriously, this weirdness would happen on the same day of my Oncology follow-up appointment. I bet if my doctor had asked to look at my breast it would have been there and we could have dealt with it then. Instead, it was late at night on a Thursday... there was nothing I could do... except make my husband take pictures of it.


Odd swelling... inside the black circle...


I know... you were expecting full on nudes... sorry to disappoint. However, now I take pictures of all weird changes. I want to document that I was not crazy and that the changes I found were real. By the next day, Friday... it was still there. And it was still there through the weekend, but it was larger and looked worse.


My normal vs my swollen skin...


On Monday I went to my OT appointment and talked about it with her. I definitely had peau d'orange which is basically a sign of swollen or inflamed skin. It is where the skin looks like an orange due to swelling. Of course, we both knew that it was definitely a new issue. So to be safe I needed to call some one. Argh!

Now that I knew I needed to call someone, I had no idea which of my many doctor's I should call. I realized my Oncologist would probably do nothing (as proven on Thursday). The Family Doctor would refer me back to the Oncologist. The Radiation Oncologist would probably refer me to the Breast Surgeon. So, I called the Breast Surgeon directly.

Of course they wanted to see me... so I scheduled an appointment. The next day I was glad that I was being seen as the area was now even larger and my skin was reddening. I went from having nothing to having weirdness in the span of just a few days.


Getting red and spreading...


When the Breast Surgeon looked at it, he agreed that it was swollen and red and new. They immediately (and I mean immediately) took me to imaging office next door and ran an ultrasound. I followed the typical protocol: undress, lay down, get ultrasounded. While there was mild inflammation, there was no mass. Looks good!

So, the first thing I had to do was take antibiotics. It could be inflammation from an infection. Of course, I was worried that it was that Inflammation Breast Cancer (which if you do not know about it - please check it out... it is rare, and completely different the other types of breast cancer). But, the first round of treatment would be to see if it was an infection.

So, I took my very strong dose of antibiotics for the rest of the week and weekend. I got the lovely side effect of needing to be close to the toilet! Strong antibiotics = upset stomach. By Monday there was nothing left in my stomach and the swelling in my breast was less severe, but it was still there. So, I called the Breast Surgeon back and scheduled a punch biopsy.


With the back story concluded, I am back to my punch biopsy...

The actually biopsy was quick. It took around thirty minutes. And only mildly discomforting afterwards. Really, I would easily do it again... and compared to other things I have gone through - this was CAKE.

The procedure was simple. I got undressed. The doctor and I talked about where the worst of the swelling was, as that was where the sample should come from. He drew a circle around the area. Then the area of the breast was cleaned and numbed (via a shot). The doctor took a small device and literally punched a sample out of my breast. He then used a scalp to get the rest of the sample. After that a tape suture was applied and I was bandaged up.


A punch biopsy... very simply illustrated


Because I take blood thinning medications they put on extra bandages and I was advised to leave them on a few days longer than they normally recommend. Not that I was going to bleed out from the tiny (and I mean I was disappointed at how little was taken) tiny sample.


My post biopsy side table...


With the sample taken I walked right out the door and knew that I would have some discomfort in a few hours... which I did. However, it was pretty easy and pretty painless. I now can add a different type of biopsy to my resume. I am definitely collecting procedures and biopsies over the past few years. Hoping I can stop gaining experiences soon!!!


I survived!


Biopsy over, now to the results...

My philosophy: No news is good news. While my mother was freaking out and wanting the results, I figured they would only rush telling me if it was bad. So, do not call me quickly.

The results came late the next day and it did not have signs of cancer. There was inflammation (well duh), but no detected carcinoma. Good news!

So I have a funky swollen spot on my boob. They are saying either I had an infection (which means it should go away) or some messed up problem from radiation or lymphatic swelling spots in the lymphatic channels from my lymphedema.

Basically, they do not know. Since they do not think it is cancer they are not worried about it. They reminded me I have a mammogram in a few months, so it will be re-evaluated then.


In my head...


I am very glad that the results said not cancerous, but it is annoying that I have some weird unexplained thing on my breast. At least when I followed up with the Radiation Oncologist he reminded me that they did excessive aggressive radiation on that breast, so it would be very hard for any cancer to come back... at least for a few years. Wow... a few years... reassuring!

So, I guess I will just deal with my funky swollen spot. With all the options of what caused it to happen, lymphedema seems to be the best reason. It is swollen (lymphedema). It looks like it is in a channel (lymphatic channel). It has now spread into into my nipple and looks like a 9 or 6 depending on the angle (networked lymphatic channels). With all the doctors not worried, I guess I should not be either.

Ironically, I am dealing with more issues from my bad cancer-getting breast... only proving that it has exceedingly earned the right of its nickname - my "sh*tty titty"!!!


“Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. 
Keep in the sunlight.” 
- Benjamin Franklin


Episode Reference: Move Along, All American Rejects song

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Follow up on this... I know I feel bad!?!

Episode XC - don't wanna be your monkey wrench


It's back to the doctor for another follow-up. I was not exactly looking forward to going back to the Oncologist. Not because he is a bad person. Not because I was worried about what he would say. It was because nothing would be done.


Waiting to be ignored...


The fact was I have had horrible symptoms and side effects post-treatment. I have complained (while still being my up-beat self) about these things. I have basically been ignored. None of these irritating side effects were part of my pre-cancer living so natural deduction implied they are probably related to the treatment I took or the medicines I am currently taking. All from cancer... so shouldn't the Oncologist manage those issues?

My experience tells me no. The Oncologist seems to only want to deal with active cancer and providing treatment for that. Anything else was not their concern. So, I was dreading the fact that I had to go in and basically be ignored.

As with any appointment, I had to get blood work before I was even seen and it was not my only round with needles. Earlier this week I completed the family doctor's blood work. It seems that all my medicines are blood thinners... meaning I get war wounds quickly. The inside of my elbow showed that maybe... just maybe... I need to take a break from all this blood sampling business.


The larger bruise is almost a week old.
Why not make a matching set?!?!


And just like I expected... the appointment was pointless. Normally that would be a good thing. My blood work looked good. I get another few months before I have to meet with him. So, by all accounts I should be thrilled that the appointment was pointless.

However, I was really hoping to be heard. I was hoping that he would listen about my symptoms and actually cared.

Instead I got a you are looking good, you are feeling good response. I got that response despite the fact I was protesting (and I was actually quite rude) that I did not feel good. Do not tell me I feel good, when I am almost in tears telling you I feel bad. No wonder I was getting rude!




When I fussed about my weight he blew it off commenting about how he wished he could lose weight too. That issue was basically every one's problem. I suppose I should be thrilled that treatment gave me 50-60 pounds. I should be so glad that I am in menopause, take 2 medicines that cause weight gain, and my thyroid has stopped working properly. I guess I should just be grateful I am not gaining weight. Why would any woman worry about such a silly complaint as gaining weight and feeling self-conscious about it?!?!?!

When I complained about my constant pain and nervous system problems, he almost slightly believed those could be real. I was told that I might have those side effects, but it was not common. Hence they must not really exist and I should keep going to my family doctor to treat those non-existent side effects. I know I am not the most urgent patient (no doubt), but I do matter and the fact that I have been barely able to function should count. I guess I should be grateful that I have to go to another doctor to treat things caused by his treatment. Why would I dare imagine such ridiculous side effects could happen even though so many breast cancer survivors are saying the same thing?!?!?!




All my sarcasm aside, after waiting almost an hour to be seen, I was given maybe five minutes to be told I felt good. I was basically ignored.


In my head...


This pretty much sums up what I am thinking...




As I expected... nothing happened. The lack of understanding makes me question if the doctor is the right doctor for me. He is well qualified and very nice, but he does not make me feel like he cares. In the case of dealing with cancer and the potential return of cancer... it makes me wonder about finding a new doctor.

Even though I am totally irritated that I was basically ignored, at least I have a different doctor who is trying to find an answer... and even better than that, I do not have any new signs of cancer.


"The trouble with anger is, it gets hold of you. 
And then you aren't the master of yourself anymore. 
Anger is.
And when anger is the boss, you get unintended consequences."
- Doon's father in City Of Ember, Jeanne Duprau


Episode Reference: Monkey Wrench, Foo Fighters song

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Weekend Get-a-way

Episode LXXXIX - It's the eye of the tiger...


Let me just clarify this before I even start writing - I am a UTK fan... go Vols! However, I am the one one in the house... and am overrun by Auburn fans. I also cheer for Auburn, except when they play Tennessee. And I still love going Auburn football games, which we try to make one game each season. I missed last year - cancer treatment - but, this year we were going... even if I hurt!




I am not a crazy fan - where I cannot recognize other teams great plays. But I do scream at the TV like the team can hear me... cause they can. And I will move seats until they improve. So, I am a slightly crazy fan. My kids think I am crazy (but for many reasons). However, I appreciate the sport. So do not be throwing hate my way when you realize who I cheer for.

There is nothing like football season in the south (if you like football). And nothing like a going to a game and spending the weekend eating at local dives and feeling the excitement on campus. I love sharing that experience with my children. I hope it will instill a desire to want to go to college. To see some of the fun and privileges of continuing their education.


Eating out the night before...

As with any college traditions, you have to wear your school colors (thank goodness both TN and Auburn are orange... even if different shades). If you are lucky enough to spend the weekend in town you generally stay in the cheapest, closest hotel you can find and hope that the weather will be good. Normally, August games can be brutally hot so I was worried about my lymphedema. Fortunately for me the weather was hot, but not the normal Alabama heat that can be humid and sweltering.


Getting ready for some football...


Auburn has a beautiful campus. And I have seen many. While the campus is large, it has an intimate feel with well designed walking paths and beautiful green areas. The large brick buildings are beautifully constructed.

We made our way around Auburn visiting Toomer's Corner for lemonade and Tiger Rags for t-shirts. Of course, in our parental push encouraging education we stopped by the library, student center, and some actual classroom buildings... and made time for our traditional pictures at Samford Hall. The day would not be complete without lunch at Momma Goldbergs where we actually found a booth available. We looped the main drag multiple times just enjoying the pre-game excitement. I walked so much I was worried that my back and legs were going to just give out.


Family traditions... 


My daughter and I opted to go back to the hotel room instead of the game. I can only handle so much time up and on my feet. My arm was swollen, my back ached, and I really needed to lay down for a while. While I slowly (very slowly) made my way towards the car, the boys headed off to the game... ready to watch Auburn win... which they did!

We enjoyed our time in Auburn and even took a quick detour in Birmingham on our way home. Why not, I already hurt???


Silly fun at McWane Science Center... 


In my head...


Even during the most difficult times, fun can be made. No matter how I feel... no matter how bad it is... I choose to enjoy my life. And even though I feel cruddy or tired or sore or ill I want to enjoy the time with my family and continue to do as much as I can.

While I wrote little of my cancer or lymphedema or the fact that the weekend wore me out... I hope that this post shows that the joy of life and the memories we make are so valuable. Stepping away from the doctor's appointments, tests, and general blah of post-cancer treatment is refreshing... even if it is just a weekend get-a-way!!!





Episode Reference: Eye of the Tiger, Survivor song
I couldn't resist for the Auburn fans... 
and Go Vols!





Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Help me Family Dr. You're my only hope.

Episode LXXXVIII - one last thing before I quit...


I finally had it. I caved and I called the Oncologist. I had spent the past month in so much physical pain I was not really functioning. I barely got my kids to and from school. I would get them there and then get into bed. Anything other than essential care was becoming unmanageable. I was postponing appointments (even my very needed medical ones). There just seemed to be no relief. Since Tamoxifen, I was just constantly fighting pain and fatigue and it was just becoming unbearable. So, I caved and I called to complain (again) last Friday...

And it happened. It happened just like I feared. They had nothing to offer. The nurse basically told me to go find another doctor because they do not deal with those issues. However, they would see me if I could not get in with another doctor. For real! Even though the symptoms occurred due to cancer treatment. Even though the cancer medications seem to be causing the symptoms. They do not deal with it?!?!?!

So, after a brief cry (which I never do) I had three options...

  1. Quit the Tamoxifen and hope cancer stays away. Not a good option.
  2. Live a horrible bed-ridden existence, but be alive. Not a good option.
  3. Find a doctor who will listen. Sounds better than the other two!

I am sure there were other options, but I hurt to bad to think of any. So, I called my family physician. He could see me... I just had to get to Tuesday...


Leaving to hopefully get options...


Thank goodness I called and made the appointment. For the first time in a long time someone heard me. I was not looked at like my symptoms were in my head. I was not questioned if I really felt the way I said I did. My family doctor listened... he actually listened to my complaints.

Then something surprising happened... he gave me options to help. Between the constant pain, continued neuropathy, muscle twitching, balance problems, inability to think, and additional hearing loss... I might still have some nervous system issues that I got during and from cancer treatment. I mean I was on medicine for it that I got off of after treatment ended. Maybe (hint - Oncologist) that should have been considered before now. Of course the family doc listened to all my other complaints ranging from insomnia to fatigue (not exhaustion, but I-can't-function-fatigue).


I just want to be in the 0-6 range...


Lyrica. It was an option to hopefully block my pain receptors from constantly telling my body that I hurt. Hopefully it can stop those signals and I can begin to do things that I want to. I was willing to try about anything. I was ready to at least try something... and I had an option!

The other "I will just mention it" complaint was that my throat was mildly sore. Even though I did not have a fever and my throat was not red - I had strep. In my youth, I had strep so much I had to get my tonsils removed. It was something I have not had to deal with since I was 18 years old. Since my immune system weakened during cancer treatment I have had it three or four times over the past year. Hopefully, it will not become a pattern. As for now, I am sure strep probably amplified my exhaustion and feeling horrible.


In my head...


I am now more medicated on a regular basis than when I was in cancer treatment. Ironically, I am taking more medicines daily to function then when I had cancer. Who would have guessed that?!?!


I haven't even put all my pills in there yet...


I was so glad that I made the doctor's appointment!

Lyrica appeared to help. I had to increase the dosage to find the amount that worked for me, but it does block the pain. And it takes exactly 30-45 minutes to kick in. So, anytime I am late on my dosage, I know! The pain is still there and I get bits and pieces of it throughout the day, but I am able to function. I am able to actually do things. I am not forced to sit down, stop, or lay down due to my back, my bones, my body.


 
Attempting some exercise since I feel mildly human...


If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.
- Lao Tzu



Episode Reference: Monkey Wrench, Foo Fighter's song

Monday, August 11, 2014

Lymphedema Update

In case you haven't read in my previous blog posts, after I finished treatment I realized I had some unusual symptoms in my right arm. I did not immediately notice the swelling, but later found out that I did have swelling and lymphedema. Lymphedema can occur after breast cancer treatment and of course why would it skip me?!?!

Since lymphedema has no cure, I have been managing my symptoms diligently. I am going to Occupational Therapy twice a week - or - what I prefer to call my boobie massage (even though it is way more than that). I have been doing my own massages. I have been learning what triggers my swelling. It is another issue that I have to live with, so I am learning how to do it with my crazy up-beat attitude.

Learn some of my Lymphedema Tips - Click Here



 


As for having lymphedema with style, I have gotten a few medical compression sleeves & gauntlets. Currently I have to wear compression garments during my waking hours. Ok, I should wear them when I sleep but sometimes I opt not to (a girl needs a break every now and then). So I bought ones that are exceptionally comfortable... and fun! There are so many patterns and alternatives to the standard one color sleeve. I could not just settle for one. Plus, I have to wear them daily so like underwear you don't just have one pair!!!

Each one looks different and I have gotten so many compliments (and looks) from strangers. Usually people believe I have gotten a very large and detailed arm tattoo. I get the cool look of a tattoo, minus the hours of pain and permanent image. Now I get to choose whatever sleeve matches my outfit and I can change it up as I want to!




A Henna based design...


A colorful design but does not fade...


And one that is a medical alert as well as just funny to wear!


All of these sleeves I am wearing are from the same company, LympheDivas. They provide so many options and patterns that I had to share. Yes, the standard beige and black sleeves are out there (they have pink too), but if you have to wear something WEAR IT with style!


Check out LympheDivas - Click Here

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Surprises at the Gyno!

Episode LXXXVII - give it away now...


Back to the Gynecologist for an ultrasound. After I saw some ovarian cysts noted in one of my reports I had an ultrasound back in June. Today I was going back to recheck my ovaries to see if any changes had occurred since the last visit. I expect to find very boring, non-cysted ovaries...


About to go to check out my ovaries...


I signed in at the front desk and took a seat in the waiting room, The office is full of people... mostly pregnant people. The large office was packed of couples awaiting appointments. I am always conflicted when I am in the office.

On one hand, I am so excited for all of the pregnant women. I talk to them and bask in their joy. I remember those days... not necessarily the joy of pregnancy (because I spent both pregnancies very ill), but the excitement of becoming a parent. Babies. Babies. Babies. They are so cute and sweet and wonderful. And they grow up!!!! I cannot believe that my children are 14 and 7... has it really been that long ago?!?!

Then on the other hand, I am thrilled that I will not have to do those late night hours or deal with all of the care that goes into parenting an infant. I have had such a long year and I can barely handle what I have now. I cannot believe that right before I found out I had cancer we had discussed having more children. We really wanted more kids, but knew that financially it would be a challenge and we were getting too old. So, we practically decided not to expand our family. I was grieving that idea and boom... cancer. I completely forgot about anything but surviving. Plus with the type of cancer I had any idea of birthing more children was gone. So now I sit here thinking how grateful I am to not be pregnant. I mean having kids is great... but they do become teenagers!!!




I knew it was going to be a long wait. However, it seemed much longer than normal. There was a sign that stated if you were waiting longer than 30 minutes to please tell the receptionist. So, I did.

Then after another period of time I heard my first name called. I was sitting in the back so I put down my magazine and turned around to see a woman walk to the nurse. She took her back. Well, I guess there's another person with my name. So, I sat back down. Then after a ridiculously long wait, I went up to the receptionist and talked with her again. She told me she was going to check. They always say that. I mean it had been at least an hour. Come on!!!

Finally, I heard my name ring out again and I made my way to the nurse. I was thrilled to be called because before I arrived I was told that I had to drink a massive amount of water and hold it. I was suppose to have a full bladder. I had been sitting in the lobby about to explode for the past hour. The first words out of my mouth were that I had to pee... really bad!!!

I asked why I could not go to the bathroom before the ultrasound. The nurse looked at me with an odd look and said, "But you've already had it." I looked at her and said, "No. You just called me back." She looked at my chart and was confused. We discussed that I was having a transvaginal ultrasound and that she had images already taken. Well, they were not mine. Seriously!!

I had been given the wrong pre-procedure instructions. (Seriously... only me!) So she sent me to the bathroom while she tried to figure out what happened. It seems the girl (who shares my first name) was given a transvaginal ultrasound. My transvaginal ultrasound to view ovaries. We shared the first same name and she seemed to believe she had one scheduled. I mean I cannot imagine wanting that type of ultrasound unless you needed it. Seriously!!!

After multiple apologizes and a bathroom break I was finally back in the ultrasound room, I got undressed from the waist down and climbed onto the chair. Then I scooted my bottom to the end of the chair and put my feet in the stirrups. Then me and the tech got intimate...

The transvaginal ultrasound (that both Amy's got today) consisted of inserting the ultrasound wand into the vaginal canal. They guide the wand inside until they get enough images of both ovaries. Basically, I am getting molested by the technician... and the pressure needed to get good images of my ovaries was not a pleasant experience.


The ultrasound wand... probing all Amy's... 


The ultrasound was not painful, but it was uncomfortable. There was some pushing and pressure to find the best angles. Normally, I would have to go wait in the lobby again, but because of the crazy mix-up I was given the next available room.

Soon the Gyno stopped by to discuss my ultrasound images. The cysts had changed. One had gone away and the other looked smaller. So nothing appeared abnormal. All good news. Then we discussed my symptoms (some cramping and my Tamoxifen side effects). She thought about everything and decided she wanted to run a blood test to check my estrogen levels. I mean we need to know that I am not producing estrogen... I do not want to be in all this misery for nothing!!!


A vile of blood later...


A few days later, it was official... my blood work results showed that I was in menopause. My estrogen was basically gone and the Tamoxifen was doing it's job. As much as I cannot stand the medicine it was doing what it was suppose to do.






In my head...


I am officially old... well at least my body is. I might be young on the outside, but I am old on the inside. Like every one says - menopause sucks. But I will be living with it for the remainder of my years so I better get used to it!!!

The main thing I learned was to confirm that it is or is not your turn when other people respond to your name. That you may or may not be giving your appointments (and odd procedures) to strangers. I cannot imagine what that other lady was thinking... probably why are they sticking that thing up my... Surprise!!!


“It ain't what they call you, it's what you answer to.” 
- W.C. Fields


Reference Episode: Give it Away, Red Hot Chili Peppers song

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The beginning of follow-ups...

Episode LXXXVI - don't stop!


Time for a follow-up radiation appointment. At least they are usually short and to the point...


The first part to any good follow up was to take vitals. So, I did the standard blood pressure, temperature, and weight pre-examination. A note to all nurses: please do the weight after the blood pressure. Seriously, it can create false blood pressure issues or at least in can in my mind! Of course my blood pressure was fine, so it did not happen to me: this time!!!

After a quick vitals check the nurse moved me back to a doctor's waiting room. Then she ask the standard questions: Medicine changes. Symptom issues. Nothing overly special to report, but I still made numerous jokes about any and all of these questions. It seem that all doctor's office have a standard set of questions. It seems I repeat the same thing to almost all of my doctor's so I should be good at answering these questions. Today things were the same as last time... I mean I was just here a few months ago.

After the nurse left I had to wait on the doctor. Some offices take forever... I mean FOREVER. My Radiation Oncologist has always been timely and appointments are pretty fast. So, it was only minutes before he got in room and re-asked me the same questions the nurse asked me a few minutes before.




Once we discussed all my "issues" I got a boob exam. That really consists of getting a visual once over to look at my skin. He examines what radiation did to my skin. Even though it is a different color now, I really think all of my hard work (see the tips page) worked. I seem to be healing well. Then it ends with a small breast exam to make sure there is nothing suspicious. My boobs look good!!!

Compared to my Oncologist, my Radiation Oncologist was talkative. He really wanted to know how I am and what issues I am having. Even though the appointments were quick, he was curious about my overall health. I think he must be an active problem solver... or cares!?!?!


In my head...


The appointment went well. Essentially, they did not see anything new or any major concerns. My skin was healing appropriately. I had no new lumps. Overall, a very successful doctor's appointment. I like these short and sweet visits!!!

I seem to be at the start of a lot of doctor's appointments. Between the OT for Lymphedema twice a week, cancer doctors, and other doctors I am constantly going somewhere for medical reasons. Of course my schedule is about to get more complicated as my children are about to start school again... I think it is going to be a busy few months!!!


It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.
- Confucius


Episode Reference: Don't Stop, Foster the People song