Results from the one-year goodbye-to-breasts-and-lymph-nodes-surgery appointment

 

Up on time, out the door on time, at the front door of St. Mike’s on time, thanks to Nik! Yay!

Appointment with Dr. Jory Simpson—kind, smart, compassionate, calming, handsome—went swimmingly. It’s all good.

Bloodwork before seeing my oncologist, Dr. Christine Brezden-Masley—kind, smart, compassionate, encouraging, beautiful—during which I tried to have a read on my Vitamin D level added in, only to find it costs $110 (!!! what?!?! all the forums I’m on say be sure to get your Vitamin D levels done! who pays for that? not OHIP, so I’ll just be taking my 2,000 IU daily and hope for the best). After plenty of “me time” in the waiting room (I had a laptop, but my arm and hand are killing me…. ), my appointment with her went really well too. See answers to my questions below.

  1. What’s with this damn fatigue, really? It is what it is. Your body went through catastrophic systemic trauma from the cancer itself, two months of testing, four months of dose dense chemo, operations and procedures, radiation—your body needs time to heal. Cut yourself a big break. Everyone is different.
  2. How much longer will my right breast keep shrinking? Likely done shrinking now, but ask your radiation oncologist (August 12).
  3. Will my finger- and toenails ever return to normal? Not sure (the Beau-Reil lines are gone, as is the koilonychia, but they are still lifting off the nail beds and every type of nail polish bubbles up off them. Yuck. I need to find a cancer-experienced manicurist. Anyone?)
  4. Can I have my radiation tattoos removed, and are there any special instructions? Don’t see why not, but ask your radiation oncologist (again, next appointment with him is August 12).
  5. When do the docs start counting survival? At diagnosis (the doctors’ or my self-diagnosis, which are eight weeks apart? of adenocarcinoma or the real deal—triple negative breast cancer? I’m taking the date of my first chemo treatment, since up until then I was doing nothing to fight the fu**er. Asterisks for my mother and mother-in-law ;-)
  6. Is there anything special about survival with triple negative breast cancer that isn’t covered in the media? Nope. The first three years are the ones to beat for recurrence.
  7. Will I be getting any extra MRIs or scans since my tumour was never found? Nope. Just standard mammograms, next one in October. Which seems a bit nonsensical since no mammo or MRI or ultrasound or mastectomy found the tumour in the first place, and triple negative rarely comes back in breast tissue anyway.

So, Dr. Brezden gave all my head and neck lymph nodes a good manipulation, and we had a good chat about how difficult it is not to wait for the other shoe to drop. That’s my nagging feeling, which I am sure that having a hormone to take would allay, but who can say? My cancer is still in remission. I’ll see her again in December, Dr. Simpson, my oncology surgeon, in October.

Onward and upward, fatigue, chemobrain and lymphadema are the enemies of the moment now. Survivorship is the goal.

My life as a sloth: Now, this is funny!

That was a depressing post yesterday because I was, well, depressed. I did as I said I should, which was go look at cute animal videos, and found this one.

It is very cute, very funny, and pretty loaded with swear words and inappropriate things, but it made me howl with laughter, so here goes. You are forewarned.

 

True Facts about Sloths

 

I hope you liked it! The creator has many more: check him out on YouTube.

 

True facts about my status

I have a double-barrelled day of fun tomorrow: follow-up appointments with my oncology surgeon (one-year anniversary of my bilateral partial mastectomy and lymph node dissection) in the morning, and with my oncologist in the afternoon. I think there’s bloodwork in there, but no mammogram.

I’ve made a brief list of subjects to touch on:

  1. What’s with this damn fatigue, really?
  2. How much longer will my right breast keep shrinking?
  3. Will my finger- and toenails ever return to normal?
  4. Can I have my radiation tattoos removed, and are there any special instructions?
  5. When do the docs start counting survival?
  6. Is there anything special about survival with triple negative breast cancer that isn’t covered in the media?
  7. Will I be getting any extra MRIs or scans since my tumour was never found?

That’s all I’ve got right now. I’m not worried so far.

Wish me luck!

 

 

My life as a sloth: What else did I miss?

Still a fairly constant state for me. And no actual attribution for this photo other than galleryhip.com, which seems to be a place to post pics you've stolen from someone else. Sigh.

Still a fairly constant state for me. And no actual attribution for this photo other than galleryhip.com, which seems to be a place to post pics you’ve stolen from someone else. Sigh.

Sometimes I read my last post and ask myself, “What was I on?” I sound so alert. That’s when I realize that when I am awake and up and moving, I am still a force to be reckoned with. Then there are days like today, when cats Benny and Angel escaped through the front door only to appear on the 10-foot-high kitchen ledge, demanding rescue. I stumbled into the backyard to get them and found a flower garden gone wild: forget-me-nots, phlox, end-stage lilacs, raspberry bushes pushing through the deck, Some plants (of course they are weeds) are as tall as me. When was the last time I was out here?

My lily of the valley? All dead.

What time is it? I start harvesting my lily of the valley by the bucketful when they first blossom, I take them to the office, day after day, doling them out. The kids pick them and bring them in the house, stuck in vases and mugs and Mason jars. There are gobs of them every year on my birthday, May 31. Where have I been?

I got the kitties, and called the clinic to check on my rescheduled followup—one year from my May 22 goodbye breast and lymph nodes surgery—only to find it was this morning at 8. Sorry, missed that.

I missed celebrating National Cancer Survivors Day, which was last Sunday, which I didn’t even know about until 9 p.m. that day (where was the memo on that one?!?!). I missed going to Animé North, the annual convention and celebration of Japanese culture through anime, manga, music, games, cosplay, costumes, etc. with Luka for the second year in a row (both times because of breast surgery, go figure). I missed the Sunnylea Spring Fair, a really sweet fair at the kids’ primary school where I manned the cookie decorating booth for a decade and always donated plates of my fancy iced cookies to the bake sale. I missed picking up my Tessa at the airport from her last sojourn to Russia, the only time I have not greeted her at the arrivals gate, and this time she came back as an engaged woman! (surgery again).

Ug. I am low. I am so sad about the damn lily of the valley. I must go sleep or find some cute baby animal videos on YouTube.

Mmmmmmaple: My prize for first follow-up appointment

 

This is not a Second Cup advert. It just does a great job of celebrating maple and making me think I should just pour maple syrup in my next coffee...

This post is not a Second Cup advert. This photo just does a great job of celebrating maple and making me think I should just pour maple syrup into every coffee I make…

 

May 20, 8 a.m. follow-up with my plastic surgeon. Her nurse marvelled at the ingenious functional work of art in progress that is my left breast. I told the doctor that the nurses, resident even clinical assistants all stared at it in wonder and she laughed that now people will be talking. I said let them talk. If it works it’ll be worth it. They removed the dressings, green and brown bruising, cleaned everything up, removed the drains (yay!) , gave permission for a real honest-to-God-stand-under-running-water shower in 48 more hours, and made a second follow-up appointment for one week later.

Nik had to leave me at hospital because he had a meeting across town, so I elected to head out to Queen Street and see if I felt like a Queen Street streetcar all the way to Etobicoke, then a bus (VERY BUMPY, my body was warning me), or splurge on a cab.

As I stood there weighing the $3 vs $28 question, my eye wandered over to the Second Cup. Being on disability has made me even more cheap budget conscious than I was before as a single parent living in Canada’s second-most expensive city (Vancouver wins the dubious distinction of being most expensive). Second Cup might as well have been a Prada pop-up shop for the attention I gave it every time I went to St. Mike’s over the last 18 months. The only time I had a Second Cup coffee during that time was when Graydon treated me! Staring back at me from the wall beside the counter was the photo I put above. Maple is my favourite all-time flavour. I am most happy when I have an amber, medium and light maple syrup at home in my fridge. Standing there, feeling very sore, and a bit sorry for myself I admit, the pull of a cup of maple-infused steamed frothed milk and coffee was too much.

Three minutes and $5.05 later, I had a medium maple latté in my hand, and five minutes after that I had my butt in the backseat of a cab, and all the way home the driver and I commiserated over the price of coffee, car repairs, fresh lamb, cell phone service, internet charges, you name it.

And I drained that latté.

My own private saint is too busy for caregiver fatigue

This is Saint Nikolai Velimirovich; my saint Nikolay looks considerably younger, has no facial hair, and never wears vestments; from http://orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2014/11/25/st-nikolai-velimirovich-technology-is-deaf-mute-and-unanswering/

This is Saint Nikolai Velimirovich; my saint Nikolay looks considerably younger, has no facial hair, and never wears vestments; from http://orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2014/11/25/st-nikolai-velimirovich-technology-is-deaf-mute-and-unanswering/

I took it very, very easy this first post-surgical week at home. I did not do that first time around—I was more like Hey! bilateral partial mastectomy? of course I can do groceries!

This time, with Tessa, my primary caregiver for the last 15 months in Russia, my man has stayed with me around the clock since Wednesday night (seven days!), making all meals—not a single delivery car has darkened the driveway—bringing them to me, cleaning up afterward, as well as doing groceries, feeding and watering all four cats and the dog, driving Luka to gymnastics, and the bus terminal, and Graydon to the scooter store, and the convenience store and so much more. It makes me feel very special, particularly as I have come out from under the narcotics haze and realized what he really has done while I’ve been sleeping. I hope I never have to return the favour (because then he would be in massive pain, etc.), but will figure another way to return this fine treatment. <3

My surgery was a success!

 

I am evil and will surely go to Hell, but when this photo popped up while I was researching "successful surgery" I knew I had to use it. In the photo,  Dr. Donald A. McCain, Chief, Division of Surgical Oncology Hackensack University Medical Center,  Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery UMDNJ; I'm not sure what type of tumour that is, but It WASN'T mine!! Dr. McCain does more than 20 Whipple procedures a year, which means he's up there with the best of them. This photo is from http://drdonaldmccain.com/or-cases/live-surgery-images/successful-surgery-ii/

I am evil and will surely go to Hell, but when this photo popped up while I was researching “successful surgery” I knew I had to use it. In the photo, Dr. Donald A. McCain, Chief, Division of Surgical Oncology Hackensack University Medical Center, Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery UMDNJ; I’m not sure what type of tumour that is, but It WASN’T mine!! Dr. McCain does more than 20 Whipple procedures a year, which means he’s up there with the best of them. This photo is from http://drdonaldmccain.com/or-cases/live-surgery-images/successful-surgery-ii/

 

My surgery was a success!

Now this says successful surgery! And this photo is from The Elite Trainer, Toronto's own (well, Richmond Hill's own now, but he started in Toronto) John Paul Catanzaro: http://theelitetrainer.com/ index.cfmt=Blog&pi=BLOG&blid=185

Now THIS says successful surgery! And this photo is from The Elite Trainer, Toronto’s own (well, Richmond Hill’s own now, but he started in Toronto) John Paul Catanzaro. He has been in the fitness biz for 20 years, and been published in 25+ mags and web sites, speaks everywhere, has two books, two DVDs and his own private training facility. Photo: http://theelitetrainer.com/ index.cfmt=Blog&pi=BLOG&blid=185

I of course never doubted for a minute that it wouldn’t be—I doubted it for days, mostly in the what-if-I-die-on-the-table? vein, or far, far worse, what-if-she-cuts-in-there-and-there’s-more-cancer?

So neither of those things happened. My surgery was around 10:45, and I was in recovery a long time. I came up to my room about 6, texted a few friends that I was getting “excellent Spain meds” then watched at least three episodes of American Justice on my phone while I made blue bracelets.  I had a feeling it would take a while for me to calm down after I came to, and for them to find the right drugs for me (I hate pain, and will work hard to find the correct relief). Once my wonder-nurse introduced fentanyl into the IV, I was pain free, alert, even lighthearted. If you could see what I could see under my gown, you could estimate how much drug was required to get that effect!

I actually took some photos of my left breast and the incredible sculptural work my surgeon had wrought there—skin, tissue, black thread, wound up gauze, a clear cup—this is what I’d been hounding my surgeon for, and there it was. OMG is all I can say.

••• If you’re considering or have started reconstruction, and you have any questions, please mail me privately and we can talk about anything. The fact that my grandpa and grandma-in-law, and many colleagues, some neighbours, read this blog occasionally means that I think the details of my surgery are simply TMI for this blog. Seriously, I have photos and lots of experiences to share with any sister going through this, triple negative or not! •••

All night long I wandered in and out of sleep, lulled and awakened in turn by my sequential compression booties, fabulous boots that wrapped me up to my knees and went on all night sucking and blowing and making me think more than once that I was safely at home with Dixie, or Princess or Benny or Angel rubbing hard against my leg, almost lifting it off the bed looking for the best place to stretch out. I did fantasize about having a sequential hand-arm-shoulder-breast-and-trunk contraption that I could wear all night and never have to self-massage or wear my yucky sleeve and glove again though…

I was discharged the next morning, exactly at 11, with drains dangling. It was a bit of déjà vu from May 23, 2014 or I guess not, since it was almost identical, except for the compression sleeve and glove. By the way, I wore the sleeve and glove through pre-op and the actual surgery, explaining to the nurses and docs that it was my way of saying DON’T TOUCH THIS ARM! Obviously, they’ve seen it before.

I took it very, very easy this first week at home. I did not do that first time around—I was more like Hey! bilateral partial mastectomy? of course I can do groceries!

This post is long enough. I’ll write shortly about my follow-up.

Why am I having another surgery?

women-bras-online-940x626

This is a weird post to write. I’m hoping that since I am flipping out about my surgery in just over 48 hours, writing this could be cathartic, lessen some of my anxiety, give me some release.

Over the last few months I’ve had people ask me why I was going for a second surgery. I’m an open person, and a big believer in talking through your problems—a problem shared is a problem halved, that sort of thing. If I didn’t talk about things going on in my life, I think I would have imploded years ago. So when I would say that I had another surgery to go in my breast cancer saga, I was always prepared for the “what” question, and would respond with the whole “it’s called a revision, I had a partial mastectomy last year after chemo, but they call the recon a work in progress, radiation shrinks you, excess skin, scarring, balancing,” blah, blah, blah.

But the question that threw me each time was the “why?” “Why are you having another surgery?” “Aren’t you worried that something could go wrong? “Why not leave well enough alone?” “I wouldn’t let them near me with a scalpel again.” “They look fine to me.”

Why would these questions and comments bother me so much? I’m the one who says to talk everything over, get it out in the open. Maybe it’s because I’ve hit a tipping point where talking isn’t helping anymore. Maybe because I finally have to face I’m a vain person. If you’re a friend, or have been following my story, you’ll know how freaked out I was about losing my hair, butI still don’t think of that as vanity as much as it was about losing my identity and not recognizing myself. But really, is not wanting to have two differently sized breasts vanity? I’ve met wonderful women who walked away from their mastectomies and lumpectomies without any further surgeries and they’re satisfied, content, happy and thriving.

So here’s what I think, after much self-examination.

I want to do the surgery because I feel that cancer has taken away more than a year of my life, has left me with lymphedema of the arm, hand, breast and trunk, a lifelong sentence of wearing a compression sleeve and glove, the need for twice daily exercises and self-massage, restriction of movement, pain, loss of energy, craving for sleep that never satisfies, feeling that my memory will never work well again, and the crushing fear that the cancer will come back.

I intend to be here for a long, long time, and I want to take back as much as I can from cancer. I want my hair back to my shoulders, and I want breasts that match. I look at these things every single day, and while I’ll never get the original size back (nor would I want it back now that I’ve experienced life at this size), I do want to be able to fit into an off-the-shelf bra and not have to rearrange myself all day long. Or wear a prosthetic breast form.

I want to be able to buy a bra from La Senza or Victoria’s Secret and have it fit. I’d also like to be able to function on eight hours of sleep a day instead of 14, but small steps, small steps.

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