And the hits just keep on coming!

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I got some excellent news when I saw my oncology surgeon week before last. The mammogram was fine, nothing to report there. Great news! I really wasn’t stressing out about those results since no tests, not mammograms or ultrasounds or MRIs ever found any cancer in my breasts (or anywhere else) in the first place.

He poked and palpated, and I said ow, oooh, that hurts, that’s really tender. He seemed mildly surprised. Then I asked him if I should be asking him, or my plastic surgeon, or my oncologist, or even my radiology oncologist, why my hand hurt so much, and why the length of my arm on the inside, and my upper arm and breast, still hurt so much. I explained that I’ve had arthritis in my wrists and thumbs for years, when he said, “Give me your other arm.” He held them both to the front, examined them briefly and—here’s the crap news—said, “You have lymphedema. I’ll refer you to the Lymphedema Clinic at Princess Margaret.”

It was like something clamped my heart, stuffed it in a lead box and slammed the lid shut.

I had a very out-of-proportion fear of developing lymphedema from the very beginning of my cancer. My lymph nodes were the only evidence of my cancer, so I knew from very early on that they were stuffed with cancer, and they’d be going. Once the lymph nodes are removed—I had 15 taken out—the lymphatic fluid builds up in the limb—right arm for me—because the mechanism to keep it flowing out of the limb is gone.

I went to a seminar on lymphedema at Princess Margaret Hospital. I made copious notes, asked questions, asked questions about the answers. I was told that lymphedema happens to 20 to 30 per cent of women like me. I did every single thing suggested as a way to avoid and not trigger lymphedema, and I’ll list them in a later post.

I will have the condition for life. I have had a lot of time to train myself to put breast cancer as far back in my mind and heart as I can, so I can live without constant thoughts about it. But lymphedema? How can I ignore not seeing the knuckles in my right hand? I now have that rubber-band wrist that is so adorable in chubby babies, but is gross and unnatural on me. And the feeling of pain and tightness and fullness.

I held it together in his office, because it was the very end of the appointment. I cried in the change room, at the elevator, with my oncologist’s secretary (she was very sweet), then when I got to the car I just sat there and bawled. It was for me, a lifetime sentence of lymphedema, for triple negative breast cancer terror of metastases, for pain, for my dad… you name it, and I cried it out.

It will take the referral at least four weeks to get through the Lymphedema Clinic, so on the advice of my cancer navigator, I made an appointment with a registered lymphedema specialist at a physiotherapist office. That’ll be in two days. My man is coming with me to learn the different therapies, particularly the lymphatic massage. More on that after Thursday.

For now, it’s sleep I crave. I have been keeping track of my sleep hours in 24-hour cycles. Last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday it was 18 asleep/6 awake; 14/10; 16/8. Fatigue causes a lot of guilt, and I never feel rested. It’s a ripoff.

Chemo nails

This post is out of order as far as my treatment goes: my fingernails were at their worst in March and April. They are back to their original state now. My toenails have not fared so well—I lost five of them, and while three of the little ones have entirely grown back, my two big toes are nailless, or rather, half-nailed (my control of the English language is not at its best now either, hmmm). I have a referral to chiropody to check out what’s going on there, but I digress.

I have always loved painting my nails, from Grade 7 on (prior to Grade 7, we had to line up at the back door of St. Aloyisus School, hands held out in front, palms down, so Mother Anacleta Miles could inspect our nails and their nakedness—even a hint of colourless nail polish meant you were sent home). It’s a tiny bit of prettiness, along with wearing rings, that I came to enjoy even more when working on a keyboard all day long (particularly because I never took typing at school, and still have to look at the keyboard to type, which means I really do see my nails a lot).

So when cancer was making me feel like I was out of control of just about everything, and I was spending a lot of time at home, I did my nails. One of the side effects of chemo is damage to nails, both finger and toe. As my nails got uglier to look at, I did then more often. It is even recommended to use colourless polish to keep nails strong. Two of the chemos that do the most damage are Taxol and Doxorubicin, both of which I took. Beau-Reil lines are lines that go across each nail, marking each high dose chemo like the rings of a tree, while koilonychia is the spooning of the nail. They turn yellow, crack, break, even pop or tear right off.

I took pics of my nails on their way to luckiness. I’ve been carrying those photos on my phone, and when I needed to make space on the phone, I found them. Hence, this post. Here goes (check out the middle finger—it was the first nail on each hand to go):

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After four of my eight rounds of chemo, this is what my nails looked like. Yech! But once the chemo drugs cleared out of my system, the nails that I lost grew back, and the ones that just broke and got gross grew out. I still have some lingering neuropathy in three fingertips on my right hand, but that’s it.

The jury is still out on the toenails, though. Fingernails grow three times faster than toenails, but the complete lack of nail growth on the tootsies has me happy that sandal weather is long gone. ;-)

Dad’s birthday

It’s another in the year of “firsts without Dad”—his birthday. First Thanksgiving, then Remembrance Day, then his birthday, the very next day. Tessa, Luka and I went grocery shopping and looked for a gingerbread cake, one he loved. We got the closest thing there was—a honey cake. Tessa bought me a present for Dad’s birthday: A round medallion with crystals on it, and four little single crystal charms with it. She said it could represent Dad and his four kids, or Dad, me and the three of them—Tessa, Graydon and Luka.

My Tessa is an old soul, and loves me so much. Her heart is so, so big. I’m afraid I’ve been taking up a lot of room in that heart since I got sick.

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Triple negative celeb cover: Joan Lunden on People

Even before the October pinkwashing began, our latest celebrity triple negative breast cancer patient was spreading her personal battle with TNBC on every newsstand with her People magazine cover. I was already dipping out of going to WalMart, Targé and malls of any kind (I’m completely creeped out by all the breast cancer pink on everything) when this appeared:

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It’s a far cry from this crazy hair day cover:

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I was all over Joan Lunden’s story in June when she revealed that she had been diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. With only 15 to 20 per cent of women with breast cancer being diagnosed with triple negative, and with all the articles and stories and reports saying the prognosis for TNBC is poor, I latched on to her story. I checked her website, read her blog, etc. This cover was about her not waiting for her hair to fall out, but shaving her head. Yuk. I did that too. Either way, we were both still bald., and I still hate how I look.

But Joan was out and about all October, appearing with the WWE, Susan G. Komen, on the Today Show as a guest host for the first week of October (video of her and hundreds of breast cancer patients/survivors/warriors), so triple negative is getting some press, finally.

Goodbye October, don’t let the door hit you in the ass

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Marcia Strassman, 66, died of metastatic breast cancer this Pinktober.

October is over, and with it maybe some of the extra pink. Joan Lunden waved in the month on the Today Show, all over Rockefeller Centre Plaza with many, many bald-headed women in pink—and the network invited bald women, but only bald women, to join her (read Katherine’s post “Hey Joan Lunden: Stage IV Wants More! in her blog Ihatebreastcancer). Joan has triple negative breast cancer, my breast cancer. A woman whom I only knew through a common friend, but who gave me a wig in my first month of baldness, died this month of triple negative. She had 10 years of treatment.

Tessa came back from her 78-day visitor’s visa to Kostroma, Russia, and her biggest shock was cancer-shock—the pink, the news stories in every medium. In one of my guilty TV watches, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, Amber celebrated her five-year mark of surviving breast cancer with a topless photoshoot (some shots were of scars down her back). Netflix viewing this month included the last years of Nip/Tuck and Christian’s breast cancer, complete with his support group. Marcia Strassman, the stunning woman above, who played many roles including that of Julie on Welcome Back, Kotter, died this month of metastatic breast cancer. She was diagnosed in 2007 with Stage IV invasive lobular carcinoma that had already spread to her bones. Drug therapy, then a lumpectomy, then more drugs. She was on treatment for seven years before breast cancer killed her. She was fully public with her metastatic disease, speaking and fundraising and showing that people do live with cancer until it finally takes them. Pink is so freaking perky for a disease that grinds you down until you stop altogether.

Last post, I said I would post the writings of others who say how I feel about pink October. This is the best one: “I survived breast cancer, but I hate Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” by Leah Nurik in The Washington Post.  I thank the Cancer Curmudgeon and her blog Anotheronewiththecancer for finding it and passing it on.

 

A view of Kostroma, Russia, taken by Yuriy Chulkov, not Tessa. I'll post her photos in a later entry.

A view of Kostroma, Russia, taken by Yuriy Chulkov, not Tessa. I’ll post her photos in a later entry.

I have almost finished writing the thank-you notes for donations in my father’s name. We had Thanksgiving dinner in Stratford, the first of a whole year of “firsts” without Dad. When it came to siting at the table, there was his chair at one end, opposite my mother at the other end, and as the eldest child, I guessed that I should sit in his place. I had never sat at the end of that table. When we were all seated, it was me who said we should say grace, and then I said we should hold hands. I thought Juli might choke, but at the time, it seemed the right thing to do. I woke three times that night crying and screaming, but couldn’t remember a single dream.

I started a 10-week exercise program—Healthy Steps Lebed Method at Princess Margaret/Toronto General—that concentrates on the lymphatic system. I had 15 lymph nodes removed during my partial mastectomy, so that lymphatic system needs to work as smoothly as possible. All of these classes have flattened me—each Wednesday I have slept from 4 or 5 in the afternoon straight through to the next morning. It doesn’t say much about my fitness! Fatigue is my enemy now, as is chemo brain, or chemotherapy-related cognitive dysfunction, as a seminar I attended calls it. Tessa attended with me. She had thought we would get the skinny on this condition at the seminar, but we really just got an excellent overview on what I have already experienced.

Lonnnnngest caaaption in my blog thus far: A map shows the front of the brain with bright yellow and lime green hues predominating along the left half of the brain medially. This region corresponds to the left superior medial frontal gyrus, the part of the brain known for its role in prioritizing thoughts and actions. The bright yellow and lime green hues in the left superior medial frontal gyrus sharply contrast the cool blue hues in the same region on the right side. The brain uses glucose as its energy supply. The bright colours represent large decreases in glucose usage by the brain. Chemotherapy can induce changes in the brain that may affect concentration and memory, according to a study presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA). Using positron emission tomography combined with computed tomography (PET/CT), researchers were able to detect physiological evidence of chemo brain, a common side effect in patients undergoing chemotherapy for cancer treatment. http://www2.rsna.org/timssnet/Media/pressreleases/pr_target.cfm?id=629

Lonnnnngest caaaption in my blog thus far: A map shows the front of the brain with bright yellow and lime green hues predominating along the left half of the brain medially. This region corresponds to the left superior medial frontal gyrus, the part of the brain known for its role in prioritizing thoughts and actions. The bright yellow and lime green hues in the left superior medial frontal gyrus sharply contrast the cool blue hues in the same region on the right side. The brain uses glucose as its energy supply. The bright colours represent large decreases in glucose usage by the brain. Chemotherapy can induce changes in the brain that may affect concentration and memory, according to a study presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA). Using positron emission tomography combined with computed tomography (PET/CT), researchers were able to detect physiological evidence of chemo brain, a common side effect in patients undergoing chemotherapy for cancer treatment. http://www2.rsna.org/timssnet/Media/pressreleases/pr_target.cfm?id=629

Wait and see. That’s what my oncologist and psychiatrist say. Like just about everything in life, that’s easier said than done. Right now, I am waiting on the results of my first mammogram since last November. Next week I see my oncology surgeon one day (he will tell me how the mammogram looks) and my plastic surgeon on another (she will tell me how I’m proceeding to the next surgery—how things are settling in each breast, and how much smaller the right one is than the left one—to me the difference is very noticeable). Radiation has made the right one smaller and it continues to shrink even now, and it hurts all the time—my oncologist says “radiation is the gift that keeps on giving!” Well, as far as I’m concerned, it can back the fuck off. I really, really don’t want another operation there.

And I have started my own year of cancerversaries. When Graydon had leukaemia, the other mothers on my list serves and I called them crapversaries. October 21 was the one-year crapversary of finding my lumps under my right arm during a Monday-morning shower. I knew it was cancer, I told my GP it was, and off I went to start 11 weeks of testing to confirm my paranoid, but correct, self-diagnosis.

Last, but by no means least, November 5 is Bring Our Grade 9 Kids to Work Day, and I am not back at work yet. Luka might have mentioned this a week or more ago, and like anything that I do not write down several places, it slipped away until he produced a form that needs signing now. That’s next Wednesday. So, if you are reading this, live in the GTA, and can have Luka shadow you at work this Wednesday (I will cover lunch, deliver him and pick him up), please let me know ASAP here, or call me at home, or on my cell, or email me at jacquelynwv@yahoo.com. This is a huge program that has run since 199r, and has support nation-wide. Luka is clever and cute and will not show up looking like this unless you request it:

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Seriously. He can come in his navy and grey Bishop Allen Academy uniform. Quite dashing. I know he’s secretly happy he won’t have to watch me edit for eight hours. He could do a half day if you can’t have him for a whole day. And he is skilled at coffee runs.

Appy-polly-loggies for the bolshy post.

 

 

pink, pink, pink, PINK, PINK, PINK, pink, pink, pink

I did not see this, I saw it on xxx blog (vvv), and maybe found the original at http://www.luvimages.com/image/campbells_pink_label_soup_cans-5975.html

I did not see this display in a store—I’ve been avoiding stores like the pink plague this month. I saw it on Stephanie Gilman’s blog Pass Me Another Cupcake blog (http://passmeanothercupcake.com/2014/09/29/one-of-those-days/), and maybe found the original (http://www.luvimages.com/image/campbells_pink_label_soup_cans5975.html).

This photo totally explains why I’ve stayed out of the grocery stores this month. Pink packaging runs amok in October. Pink soup, pink juice, pink milk, pink M&Ms (pink outside package, pink M&Ms inside the bag), pink toilet paper, pink curling irons and blow dryers, pink Kitchen Aid mixers for heaven’s sake!!! Please send me one. And a big bag of those M&Ms.

I’ve been trying to write a posting on October, you know,

 

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But I am so conflicted I can’t really get anything out on paper. Or here either.

I knew October would suck for me. I discovered my lumps last October. I feel as though I have let my pink sistahs down—I never painted a pink ribbon on my nails, or dyed my hair pink before it fell out, or wore pink to chemo days. I don’t have a magnetic pink ribbon on my car, or one hanging from my rearview mirror. I don’t call myself a cancer warrior, and I haven’t signed up for a cancer run or walk. I discussed with my psychiatrist (new experience for me, an actual real psychiatrist just for me) how I haven’t gone to any group sessions, have done no bonding with any other breast cancer women, or men for that matter.

What I have found is some excellent writing by other bloggers who have breast cancer, and over the rest of this month I will be reposting some of their posts.

As for me and the avoidance of stores this month? I have Thanksgiving dinner dishes to prepare, and there is not enough in the fridge to cobble anything together, save a pearl onion, olive, anchovy, pickle and fish sauce stew, and I don’t think there’ll be any takers for THAT one!

So it’s off to the shops later today. Maybe I’ll wear my wig. And I won’t be wearing pink.

MRI reveals adrenal adenoma: NO BIG DEAL!!!

What the CT scan showed, and the MRI detailed, was simply an adrenal adenoma, a noncancerous tumour.

YAY!!!

Join me and Spidey in a dance of cancer freedom!

Yes, this is what I did once I got out on Queen Street in front of St. Mike's. I was ecstatic! I love this gif, thanks to http://gifvault.com/dancing-gif-111.html/dancing-gif-111

Yes, this is what I did once I got out on Queen Street in front of St. Mike’s. I was ecstatic! I love this gif, thanks to http://gifvault.com/dancing-gif-111.html/dancing-gif-111

I have spent so much time and energy convincing myself and Tessa that I would be told I needed a biopsy this afternoon that when Dr. Brezden told me I was clear and could now go home and celebrate, I didn’t know how to respond. I was in a daze of sorts. I wandered out right past the desk with my blood req in hand and they called me back to set up the next appointment. They thought it was pretty funny that I had forgotten the drill already. They set me right up with a printout of upcoming visits to St. Mike’s: I have a plastic surgery app’t, mammogram, and checkup with my cancer surgeon in November, and see my oncologist on December 18, exactly one year from my sentinel node surgery.

From the hospital I went to my place of work, picked up a fellow editor friend, drove to her house and this happened:

Only when Diana opened the bubbly, she did it like a pro, with a pop and no loss of champagne. Pic from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-jennings/holiday-champagne-buyers_b_4325064.html

Only when Diana opened the bubbly, she did it like a pro, with a pop and no loss of champagne. Pic from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-jennings/holiday-champagne-buyers_b_4325064.html

And then this happened:

Hmmmmm, this was tasty. Made me wish I had a driver so I could have indulged more. This pic courtesy of http://www.matfenhall.com

Hmmmmm, this was tasty. Made me wish I had a driver so I could have indulged more. This pic courtesy of http://www.matfenhall.com

So, this is the confirmation that there is no discernible cancer in my body now, after chemo, surgery and radiation. Thank you to the many doctors and nurses who have taken care of me, and thank you to my family members and friends for their prayers and positive vibes and healing thoughts. It looks like everything worked.

I should sleep very well tonight!

Thank you all ♥

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