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...

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Let's just say, it's a boobie massage

Episode LXXXII - She's lump. She's lump.

I had no idea what I was in for regarding Occupational Therapy for Lymphedema. I quickly found out that the lymphedema treatment was essentially a massage that helps to redirect the lymphatic fluid to flow in the direction of the heart. Basically, the massage would help the fluid get out of my arm and back into circulation. And it was not a typical massage.

The lymph system is located directly under the skins, so the therapist barely does more than to move the skin. Honestly, the small gentle movements barely qualify it as a massage. It was essentially a gentle touch therapy. However, I call it My 1 Hour Boobie Massage!!!

Something I never would think I would say...
Boobie Massage.

When I first got into the room I took off my shirt and bra. Seriously, after everything I have been through I am wondering who hasn't seen my boobs?!?!

Then I laid down on the massage table and place a light cloth to cover my breasts. Not that it would matter if they were covered or not since the massage therapy was centered around my arm pits, chest, and arms. I mean the therapist was going to be touching and seeing all of my chest anyway. Take a number... my boobies have been seen by just about everyone.

Light touch down the neck... 
(The massage pictures are not me.)

The therapy usually starts with small movements (just a slight tightening of the skin) under chin and down my neck. Afterwards she works my collar bone area out towards my shoulders.

Then the focus is on my good arm pit, or left side, toward my heart and down my sides toward my pelvic region. She starts with my good lymphatic side first... gets the system going and hopefully ready to help aid the other side not working correctly.

After she stimulates my left side it's time to get the bad, or right, side moving. She similarly works under my arm pit towards my heart and my pelvic region. And I will then flip on my side so she can work down my back too. Afterwards, I turn back over and then the therapist gets to really know me... intimately!

Rubbin' the Boobie Area...
(Again, not me... but don't they look relaxed)

Time to focus on my chest. The therapist works on the build up of scar tissue around my many scars and radiated breast. I have a large scar down my right breast from the lumpectomy, across my chest for the port, under my arm pit in multiple spots for the axillary lymph node dissection/drain tubes, and some hardening from radiation under my breast. She works hard to break up all those lumps, tissue, and general mess irritating me. See, I told you... a Boobie Massage!!!

Most of the time during treatment my right breast is being worked on. After she gets it good and massaged the therapist starts to work the lymphatic system down my arm. She will massage it until she gets to the tips of my fingers. Each massage movement was so gentle that I often wonder if something so simple could work.

My arm is definitely showing lymphedema swelling, so I get two Boobie Massages a week. Not only that, I am suppose to do the same massage to myself multiple times a day. Really... I was just given a prescription to touch my boobs!

In my head...

A note to all women about to go to their first OT appointment for lymphedema treatment for their chest or arms, if at all possible leave your children at home. My very first appointment I brought my daughter. I was not aware that I was going to get naked and felt up in front of her. Thank goodness she was so wrapped up in the technology I brought that she was completely unaware. One of those classic moments in life - making memories here!!! 

It seems that I have a boob theme going on right now. I cannot seem to get away from clinical touching. However, I am always surprised at how tired I am after treatment. I guess an hour of rubbing an area that feels bad can wear a girl out. I think I should be rejuvenated and all energized. Apparently, all that focus on my chest can be exhausting. The massage really does work and gets the lymphatic system pumping - it seems to be helping the swelling. 

I am lucky that I really enjoy my therapist. She cracks me up! I think I am lucky, as it should be important to enjoy the company of the person who is massaging your boobs!

“Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.” 
- Hippocrates

Episode Reference: Lump, The Presidents of the United States song

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Seriously... Lymphedema too!!!

Episode LXXXI - Doctor says you're cured but you still feel the pain

After my summer family vacation where I probably partook in too much sun & fun I began to feel like my armpit was swelling more than normal. I mean I was constantly having to adjust my sports bra because of swelling. I wanted to ignore it because I did not notice any swelling in my arm, but eventually the other side effects became to bothersome.

The numbness and tingling sensation in my hand continued. Besides weakness in my right arm I found an inability to reach properly. I mean holding the cell phone to my head became challenging. It was annoying! So even though I tried to avoid calling the doctor, I finally had too.

Of course the oncologist was like, Lymphedema. I figured that, but I was really hoping not to deal with another issue. I mean really - another issue. Come on!!!

Find out more about Lymphedema - Click Here.

Today was my scheduled appointment with a therapist to help manage swelling and side effects caused by Lymphedema. Since it was a late appointment I had enough time to fit in a fun afternoon with my daughter. It's summer and I am busy - I have fun to do. Darn arm... you won't stop me.

We went to the local botanical gardens, which hosted an Alice in Wonderland theme. We made our way through a rabbit hole, door maze, and even got to be Tweedledee & Tweedledum... guess which one I was going to be!!!

Summertime Girls Day...

Afterwards I made my way to the therapy office and began recalling my memories of physical therapy from my childhood. When I was younger I had multiple knee surgeries which required physical therapy. Yuck! I imagine pulling and exercises and painful hard work. I have horrible memories of it. I was young. It hurt. I really was not looking forward to the appointment. Yuck!

As I sat there thinking "Yuck!" I actually read the sign on the door. What a d'oh moment... Apparently that physical therapy appointment I had was actually for occupational therapy. I have so many medical appointments I don't even know what they are for any more!!! On the positive, it was not physical therapy. Plus, I showed up at the right place at the right time (not always the case, just ask the dentist or the imaging center or the... well you get it).

It's OT not PT?!?!

The appointment consisted of discussing all my symptoms which were common signs of Lymphedema. Then I laid down and she marked spots all up my hand and arm with a marker. Then she measured around the marks on both my right and left arms. Those measurements would help determine the amount of swelling I had. While I thought my arms looked the same size she said that swelling was not always noticeable with the eye. Basically, that unless I had tiny arms I may not be able to tell. And unfortunately, I do not have tiny arms!!!

So, I spent an hour getting my arm measured and having a fun conversation. The therapist was hysterical and we really hit it off. I think I am in for some interesting conversations during my treatments!!!

In my head...

I have to laugh... I mean I barely had any lymph nodes removed and I got Lymphedema. I guess I should be thrilled that more were not taken, as it could be worse. It is kind of funny, come on, if you think about it... it's funny!

Once again, I am thankful for my twisted sense of humor!!!

Next week I actually start OT. Who knows what that will be like?!?! From what I gathered it will be nothing like PT and for that I am extremely grateful. I get to undergo something new... It seems my cancer journey keeps giving me new experiences.

“Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted. 
And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.” 
- Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

Episode Reference: No one is to blame, Howard Jones song

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Relay x2

Episode LXXX - Tonight's the night... let's live it up

My family and I packed up our car and made our way to celebrate in my hometown, Chattanooga, TN, for the Relay for Life event. I knew I was going to have a long, but fun day. By the time we arrived I was already worn out, but found comfort on a sofa at my brother's house... sofa...

My mom was busy organizing and prepping for the event. My brother was off to help her. And my husband and sister-in-law got the privilege of taking all the kids to the pool... which we all know means they would be exceptionally worn out later. Not the kids, the adults!!!

It was our second Relay for Life event and we were going to meet up with the many (and I mean many) people who have been sending me love from home over the past year.

My TaTa Warriors...

I spent the evening talking. There were so many people to hug and thank. I talked so much I didn't get to eat until after everyone had left. I talked so much that I started to lose my voice. I am a talker and I talked so much that I could not believe I talked that much.

I got to see some friends I had not seen in years and amazed that they still look the same... really some people do not age!!! I am also glad that even after extended periods that we can pick back up in conversation and feel as if no time has passed.

My mom has a wonderful support group in her friends and they all were kind enough to make their way down on a Saturday night to show me how much they cared. Even those close to my dad through work were there to support him and me. I was feeling the love!

Of course, my crazy family in Chattanooga all showed up. It was great to visit with my uncle, aunt, cousin, and her husband. My dad is a twin and any time those two are together loud laughter and tall tales are told. My mom, dad, brother, sister-in-law, and kids were all there adding to the fun. We were definitely a happy team and causing all kinds of chaos!

As my cousin said... this family is no way normal!

Twin trouble... my uncle, cousin, me, & my dad

My brother who hung around the longest & the silly hat lap participants 

I have no idea how much I walked, maybe only a few laps, but mostly spent my time enjoying my family and friends. I only hope that I got a chance to properly thank each one of them. If I did not - then thank you (virtual hug)!!!

Walking a lap with a few of my warriors...

While our goal was not primarily fundraising, so many people who came were generous. They had collected money to go the American Cancer Society. They had already supported me last month and now were so willing to do it again. Also, I had created a piece of artwork to be auctioned off at the event at our team booth. I was delighted that it went home with someone I truly believe will cherish it... you know who you are... be prepared my dad might steal it off your wall!!!

Chattanooga on my mind...

The night was full of fun. I even went out and did some Cupid Shuffle dance... which I had never done before. I am not sure I was dancing, but I was moving... and every ounce of me hurt. It was so worth it!

Slowly people had to leave and in the end it was just my brother and husband lingering with me during the candlelight ceremony. The building went dark and silent. A young child began to sing and they began to have people light candles in honor of those who lost their fight, for those still fighting, and those who have survived. We each had an opportunity to light a candle and it was a solemn reminder of how very lucky I am.

In my head....

It was amazing to see everyone. It was great to laugh out loud with my friends. And I was thrilled to be out past my normal bedtime.

Me all fresh and rested... on the way to the event.

I admit that these events wear me out... I could sleep for days afterwards. Who knows if I am even conscious writing the blog post now. However, I would not have missed it for the world!!!

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in.” 
- Robert Frost

Episode Reference: I've gotta feeling, The Black Eyed Peas song

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Vacation or Foodcation?

Episode LXXIX - In my mind I'm going to Carolina...

My crazy crew was off on a family vacation, minus my husband who had to stay home and work. It was a shame he could not make it as he was going to miss out on some crazy family fun. Before we officially were on vacation I had to drive two hours just to get to my hometown, where my parents and brother' family live. From there we embarked on a day long trek to Charleston, South Carolina.

I feel like I need to explain myself or at least my super nerdiness. When my kids are going to travel to new places on routes we have not taken I make a collection of historical and fun facts about cities we drive through. I know. I know. Super nerdy.

And yes, even the people in my family think I am crazy for trying to educate them while on vacation. Learn while on vacation?!?! My kids find it interesting and the multiple places to check off on a list makes a long trip seem less long. That or they are just used to my nerdiness...

Sample of my trip information and location check off sheet...
I mean we passed were they film the Walking Dead - cool!!!

The trip took longer than expected, but we got there. My back still does not enjoy riding in the car and hours in the car was pretty tough. My mom drove the whole way, which I was extremely grateful for. I would not have been able to manage a road trip like this for a while. Car + Pain = Cranky Me!

I come from a long line of doers, so vacation is about doing things rather than relaxing. Our visit to Isle of Palms & Charleston, SC was essentially going to be about history, some beaching, and a lot of food.

Who's willing to take this group on a carriage ride?

On our first day in Charleston we opted to take a historical tour via horse drawn carriage. It was not only informative, but a good way to get a glimpse of the city while saving our feet from walking. Trust me as soon as we got off we were walking.

We walked a lot during our week stay. We went to the Slave Mart, Old Exchange & Provost, Old Slave Mart Museum, King Street shopping, Rainbow Row, various parks and churches. The boys went out on a charter boat and caught sharks... seriously, sharks! We even drove out to Charles Towne Landing where an alligator was lounging openly in a lake only feet away. We were busy!

Surprisingly the trip turned out to be about food. Charleston was full of amazing restaurants serving a variety of foods. We went to a number of good places to eat Jestine's, SNOB, Tommy Condons, and more. I must admit we loved the low country cooking at Jestine's so much that my mom and I went back for a second time. Pecan crusted chicken... yum!

We definitely had a food-cation! (SNOB & Jestine's)

Another interesting food stop we made was on Sullivan Island... Poe's Tavern. Apparently, Edgar Allan Poe was stationed at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island for a little over a year in 1827. It was the inspiration for his story “The Gold Bug”. The restaurant, or should I say bar, was stocked with Poe memorabilia and the food was named after all things Poe. It was awesome!!!

Poe's Tavern... were I enjoyed a Black Cat chicken sandwich!

There was nothing like a family beach trip without a little beach. It was not our normal beach vacation where we spent hours at the beach each day. To be honest, it was windy and cooler than expected so the beach was less appealing then normal. While it was not as pretty as the gulf, it was packed with shells. The kids even found whole sand dollars, not the broken remnants that we normally find.

For me, the bonus was that the beach was flat. Meaning I could walk on it. While it was further away then normal, it was a pretty walk to get there.Either way, I made my way to beach a number of times and so did my kids.

Beach bound...

Charleston is full of history. It was also full of cemeteries. I enjoy taking black and white photography of unusual (meaning mostly older) cemeteries. Back in college I wondered through the cemeteries of New Orleans with a passion. So, my interest in taking pictures of graveyards was not a new found weirdness associated with death or post cancer morbid fascination. Honestly, I have always found cemeteries quite beautiful.

Touring the cemeteries and taking picture... see...

In my head...

Tourists... Charleston did not seem fond of them. It was not like some other places where the locals were friendly. They really weren't. There was no smiling at strangers on the street. There was no moving out of the way for small children as you walked by. I think the city tolerated us tourists and probably glad for the money spent by tourists, but not necessarily pleased that we were there. Not that it bothered me - cause I was there to have fun!

It was a busy and fun-filled week. I did not have any specific expectations or plans for the trip, I just wanted to be with my family. So, I went as much as I could go... except on Wednesday when I passed out mid-afternoon and napped - I was exhausted!

Even though I hurt throughout the week. Even though the elevator was out of order and we had to go down six flights of stairs.Even though my mom's sense of direction took on us on a walking excursion towards the projects of the city. Even though my daughter caught some stomach bug and threw up on the bed multiple times during the night. Even though... well, you get the drift... I was not going to miss out on an activity. I pretty much said yes to anywhere anyone was going. I was going to experience the entire vacation even if it felt like it might kill me...

"The thing is, to have a life before we die. It can be a real adventure having a life." 
- John Irving, from The World According to Garp

Episode Reference: Carolina In My Mind, James Taylor song

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Squish. Squish. Repeat...

Episode LXXVIII - duh-nu-nuh-nuh-na

My boobs were slightly off... literally and figuratively. My left breast was past due for an annual mammogram and my right breast still had a month or two to go. So last visit with the Radiation Oncologist he scheduled my mammogram in between those times, so for the end of June. Mainly that was because post-surgery and post-radiation the mammogram could be more painful than normal. Sweet!

I would have kept that appointment and given myself some more healing time, but life happens. My husband was switching contracts/companies again and I wanted to get the mammogram covered by our current insurance since we had already met the out-of-pocket max.

I did mention again. Seriously, we have gone through 3 insurances during my cancer treatment... meaning we had already met 4 out-of-pocket deductibles (3 insurance changes in 2013 & 1 it's a new year deductible in 2014). And yes, we reached the out-of-pocket max amount on all 4 insurances... I will have to write about that craziness another day. Cancer was definitely not cheap but, at least we have insurance!

Time to get my squishing on...

I had another face-palm-where-was-my-brain moment. And here I thought I was being extra awesome...

My gyno wanted the images of my bilateral cysts so that when she did an ultrasound in a few weeks she would have something to compare it to. I planned to take the copy of my CT images because her office was in the same building as the mammogram imaging. I left early, dropped off the CD, and I arrived early for my appointment at 9:30 am. See great organizational awesomeness... right?

When I signed in the nurse commented on the fact that I was early. I explained how I was dropping off something at the gyno office when she let me know that my appointment was for 11:30. I was sure it was 9:30. I had told myself multiple times that time and mentally planned that morning for days. I was so sure that when I sat down to fill out my paperwork that I checked my phone calendar (which essentially holds my life schedule) and there it was... Mammogram 11:30... Face-Palm!!!

They worked me in and I made my way back to change into the gowns. It was empty when I first got there. Last time the office was packed... today there were just a few women. And each women (only 2 while I was there) had been called back to be scanned again because of concerns.We talked and I tried to ease their minds. I shared my experience and tried to reassure her. Hope my crazy experience made them less nervous... or at least made them feel better.

Then my name was called, my turn. I got squished horizontal. I got squished vertical. Now repeat on the other breast. Then I got additional squishing... bonus right boob squishing!

It was just like my original exam except that I had to have additional scans on my right breast. Those plates were smaller and more intense. I suppose it hurt some, but compared to everything I have been through... easy.

Then I sat down and waited for them to review the images. My recent CT scan showed nothing so I was not worried. The nurse called my name to talk... she was all secretive. Turns out she was worried that I was not going to have insurance since I moved my appointment. She wanted me to understand that I had to come back in six months for another mammogram and was worried about the costs. I reassured her that I would be back in six months and that my insurance was not gone, just changing. Other than that, I was clear to leave....

In my head...

Sure the mammogram was uncomfortable, but definitely not in my top painful experiences. I lost a tiny section of skin under my right breast, but under-wire bras create that problem too. At least I had another 6 months before going through it again... and more time for my skin to heal.

A clear mammogram. No signs of lumps or trouble. Good news!

Happiness is not something readymade.
It comes from your own actions.
- Dalai Lama

Episode Reference: PeeWee's Big Adventure, Tequila dance

Friday, May 16, 2014

Fight. Laugh. Live.

Episode LXXVII - Are you ready boots? Start walkin'!

I left my afternoon Oncologist appointment with barely enough time to make it home and get my family ready for Relay for Life. Of course the people who decided to start roadwork during rush hour did not help me get home on time. Really... Friday... at 5?!?!

While I was thrilled with the "looking good" report from the doctor, I was also excited to get out there and walk for the American Cancer Society...

I am wearing my shirt!!!

My family got on our matching TaTa Warriors shirts and rushed out the door, minus dinner, to make the event on time. The kids got a snack, but I think that lack of dinner might cause some issues in a few hours for my two.

A friend of mine was also on her way to the event. Even though I decided only a few weeks ago to participate she opted to be walk with me. I was not surprised as she had taken me to most of my chemo treatments... she went through the cancer journey right with me.

Even though I hurt all over and my bones ached... I was able to walk and I was going too. Not only that, but I was extremely lucky to be sharing the event with some people I loved.

TaTa Warriors representing...

The night was full of fun events. I got to walk the first lap with other survivors and the second lap with my caregivers (my family). After that, I walked to walk. I should say I strolled slowly around and looked at all the team booths. That counts as walking... right?

One booth had a ping pong ball contest where the balls landed in bras for prizes... that was awesome!

Bra Pong... Save them all Big or Small!!

Food, live music, line dancing, balloon animals, and even men dressing up for cancer. The event went throughout the night. I made it until the late hours. By 10:30 pm we were all starving and decided to keep the party going with a late night dinner. I was not home until after midnight! I have not pulled a late nighter in a long time... I was going to pay for it the next day.

In my head...

In my reality, I paid for it for the rest of the weekend. I was exhausted! I slept until noon the next day - seriously! Despite my exhaustion, I was glad I did it.

Most of my family live hours away in another state and with my last minute decision to walk could not make it to the event. However, we decided that I would do another Relay for Life in their town next month. Guess I need to keep on walking!!!

More TaTa Warriors walkers in June...

I am so lucky to have so many people supporting me and they are my TaTa Warriors... they keep me fighting. laughing. living. Hence, three words on my shirt! I love: fight. laugh. live.

I will fight this. I will laugh through this. I will live... (and live joyfully)!!!

“There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle.” 
- Albert Einstein

Episode Reference: These Boots Are Made for Walkin', Nancy Sinatra song

Learn more about Relay for Life here

Oncology Update

Good News Alert...

I had to go back to the Oncologist to hear my scan results. My appointment was right before Relay for Life so I was rocking my faux-hawk.

Me waiting on the Oncologist with my Jimmy Neutron hair...

Basically, the Oncologist said:

My bone scan was pretty clear - no cancers. Some weird bone island thing on my thigh, but nothing that warrants trouble. (I had to look up what a bone island was - "A bone island is a benign growth of bone or cartilage inside a bone, usually within the marrow.")

My CT scan seemed pretty good too. My chest was clear other than some build up where I had my recent surgery to remove the breast cancer. My liver had a couple of spots, but it seemed more fatty tissue than cancer. As far as CT scans went it looked good.

In my head...

Good news...

I did notice later, when I read a copy of the report, that the Oncologist did not mention that bilateral ovarian cysts were found. I guess he did not mention it because there was a side note that said common for my age. I know I had gone to the Gynecologist after I was diagnosed and had a ultrasound that showed no cysts. As I recall, my ovaries looked like tiny shriveled raisins due to chemo treatment.

Going to contact my Gyn and see what she wants to do (probably another ultrasound to make sure those cysts are normal). And since I have some discomforting side effects (bone pain) I am going to send my scans to another radiologist (friend of my brother) for a second glance to see if anything else could be causing it. Cancer doctors like to only look for cancer. Maybe something else was causing the pain... or it could just be Tamoxifen.

Better to be safe than sorry!!!