Out damned spots! or, my tattoos no longer trigger my carcinophobia

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Yes, this is a photo of my chest. If you look down to the lowest loop of the necklace (made by me, 8mm moss agate beads and tiny black glass beads) you’ll see just above that strand one of my radiation tattoos. No big deal, yes? But when I see it every single time I look down, every time I spill something on myself (which is alarmingly often), every time I look in a mirror, it is a big deal. It smirks at me “Hi, I’m still here, maybe you’ll need me again.” Or it proclaims “Hey! This woman had breast cancer!” Or it snarks “Ha. Thought you wouldn’t think about cancer today, did you? Gotcha. Think about it.”

But, the joke is on the tats.

Two weeks ago I went to visit the office of Dr. Sean Rice, Toronto plastic surgeon, founder and director of Rice Cosmetic Surgery, thanks to a press release issued by Ashworth Associates, and a number of articles and TV news spots on Dr. Rice. In the month of October, Dr. Rice waives his fee, all of it, for removing radiation tattoos from breast cancer treatment.

First, I had to get clearance from my radiation oncologist. No problem. Then I made the appointment and spent ages preparing mentally for a procedure that was not medically necessary (I do not like pain of any kind). I’ll go through the whole experience because it was so short! In the door, greetings from two really lovely—beautiful—women, go to the procedure room, snap a pic of my chest, put on cool glasses, lie down, swab, a whooshing cold rush of air, three electrical zaps, and done. I couldn’t believe it. I originally said I would only get the centre one removed, but it was SO EASY I asked if I could have the second one zapped as well. They use new technology for tattoo removal, a PicoSure laser, which is apparently light-years ahead of the standard equipment. I was Polysporinned and bandaged, and told to keep applying lots of Polysporin and they would scab up and in three or four weeks I would be tattooed no more.

Oh yay!

That’s one more thing crossed off the list of things to do before I go back to work.

I cannot wait to be able to look down and see no reminders of radiation…

 

 

Taking stock of post-cancer-treatment me

Not really.

Not really.

I like to think about my breast cancer experience as little possible, and on a good day I succeed. I have many physical reminders of my BC that have nothing to do with the preponderance of pink ribbons and their campaigns:
• my lymphoarm and all the joy it brings me,
• dark ashy hair without a touch of blond,
• aches and pains in my breasts,
• the fact that no bra will ever fit right again (until I get a custom made one with different-sized cups, or wear a prosthesis or padding),
• the suspicion that the lopsidedness is visible to casual onlookers,
• scars on chest/breasts and under my arm, and finally,
• the radiation tattoos.

What I tell myself about each of these points:
• can’t hide the bandages or the sleeve and glove, gonna have them for the rest of my life, so I just have to deal
• thinking that getting some blond highlights back in my hair is a great idea as part of my back to work preparation—just need a whack of cash that I don’t have just now
• can’t take pain pills for that, gonna have them for the rest of my life, so I have to deal
• could have a third breast surgery to reduce the left one, and even though my plastic surgeon is an accomplished anatomical artiste I think I do not want another go-round, so I will just have to deal
• if someone is staring at my chest and discovers one breast is larger than the other, really, what the hell can I do? At present I’m home all day, or running kids around in the car, or going to appointments where I guarantee no one is staring at breasts with anything but a passing or clinical interest, so if that reminder really gets to be too much I will just get fitted for a prosthesis
• I am on my third bottle of Bio Oil in efforts to decrease the appearance of my scars and as long as I keep my arm down and clothing on, the only one that is visible is the one from my port and it’s not so bad now
• the radiation tattoos, particularly the one in the centre of my chest, above almost every neckline I wear, is the one thing I CAN do something about. There is a plastic surgeon here in Toronto who does radiation tattoo removals for free in the month of October (and hopefully shortly thereafter).

Yay!

Summer-happiness-photo

My scans are clear!

Pinktober, and mammogram results tomorrow

Plastic surgeons have some of the prettiest and goriest websites around. Thank you to Calgary plastic surgeon for this visual (http://markhaugrud.com/procedures/breast-reconstruction/)

Plastic surgeons have some of the prettiest and goriest websites around. Thank you to Calgary plastic surgeon Dr. Haugrud for this very pretty visual (http://markhaugrud.com/procedures/breast-reconstruction/)

I haven’t posted anything this Pinktober about how uncomfortable the entire month of October feels for me. I like to not think about my breast cancer. The longer I can go NOT thinking about my breast cancer, the better. With most of my waking thoughts on my flipping lymphoarm (made up word) I succeeded in not thinking about breast cancer a lot over the last three and a half months, but the arrival of October and the pink ribbons and walks and sponsorships and fundraisers make it impossible to not get slammed in face with breast cancer constantly. Which is the cause of layers of discomfort: I think about breast cancer far more (bad), but all these things raise money for breast cancer (good) but the money goes all over the place and little of it goes to my cancer (triple negative) (bad), but I should be thankful for the awareness it raises (good) even if companies profit off the suffering and potential suffering of patients and family and friends (bad).

Ug. Suffice to to say I’ll be very happy to see Halloween night. We decorated the house tonight in the rain. I’ll post a pic on the 31st.

Two weeks ago I was back at St. Michael’s for a mammogram. My bandaged arm was too big to fit through the armhole of the hospital gown, so I went toga-style with one shoulder covered and the other bare. I sat in the rectangular room, chairs against all four walls, for a few minutes like that and then another patient came over with a second gown and put it around my shoulders. Why didn’t I think of that? What a nice gesture.

Into the scan room, and four uncomfortable squishings later the technician says “Let’s take a look at these,” so I follow her and we look at the scans and she says, “Hhhmm, the radiologist isn’t going to like the look of that one. I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to do another one. I’ll try to be really fast.” “Oh, I’m not in any hurry,” I said, and she responded, “This one will hurt though, so I’ll try to be really, really fast.” My right breast has all the radiated tissue plus the scarring from surgery and biopsies, so I guess it wasn’t clear enough (or she didn’t correct me when I guessed that was the reason for the fifth scan).

And she wasn’t kidding. It hurt so much (sorry to say that, but might as well be honest), that tears literally popped from my eyes and I found it difficult to stay standing. I was gasping and gulping and crying all the way through the goodbyes and good lucks and sorries to the change room, where I stayed for a full five minutes until I could get a grip again. It was the freakiest thing. And it hurt until the next day.

So it’s been two weeks of Pinktober waiting for the results of my mammogram. I feel like I’m right on theme. I am confident there will not be bad news when I see my surgical oncologist, Dr. Jory Simpson, who could definitely play himself in the film version, because if the scans had shown something someone would have called me in before now. My anxiety level is fluctuating between a 1 and an 8, more in the lower end.

I did my bandaging too enthusiastically tonight because I can no longer feel anything but pins and needles. That means it all comes off and I start over again. I hate this. I can’t wait for my sleeve to come in.

Good news about my lymphedema!

After less than two weeks of bandaging, these two areas of the ring finger on my right hand went numb and feeling didn’t come back. I was told to try taking the bandages off for three hours and see what happened. Nothing. Then, I was told to leave them off for eight hours. Nothing. So Dr. Chang, physiatrist with the Cancer Survivorship Centre at Princess Margaret, sent me for a nerve conduction study (a really freaky test I don’t hope to ever need again) that found it was a branch of the digital nerve, no idea why, no treatment, no reason for it to spread, keep going with the bandaging.

I have definitely been in a stall with this blog, and I blame it all on my lymphedema. And the fatigue, but this post is about the arm. For the last three months everything has been about my arm: it hurts, it burns, it feels bloated and heavy, it pinches, my hand cramps, my skin crawls, it’s numb, it’s pins and needles, etc., etc., ad nauseam. It won’t fit in any clothes, I can’t get comfortable at night, my fingertips freeze, bandaging takes forever, I AM NOT NOR EVER WILL BE AN RMT!

Two weeks ago, after almost three months of massaging, exercising, bandaging and Cobanning, I went from 24% to 11% more than the left arm. Even though I was told that 11% was good enough to move back into a sleeve, my thinking was that if I stopped bandaging at 11% and went to a sleeve, which only maintains your size, the next time I would flare it would be in addition to an arm that was already 11% larger than the other. My flare this summer was a 21% increase, so if next summer I increase the same amount, I’d be looking at an arm 32% larger than my unaffected one.

This may be a flawed theory, who knows, but it makes sense to me.

I was so deflated and hopeless and angry after that measuring that I began the most aggressive bandaging and pumping and massaging (deep and surface) I had the entire time. I stared at that arm with such hatred I think it might have shrivelled a little just from the evil eye.

Yesterday I went for measuring at the Survivorship Centre at Princess Margaret again and there I was—6%!!!

That’s good enough for me! I went to my fitter—Mansuetta—and got measured for a new custom sleeve and glove. The thought of putting these bandages into a bag and burying it in my closet has me giddy. Wearing a sleeve and a glove will feel like running naked through a sprinkler on a scorching summer afternoon to me (that’s me as a kid, not now, God forbid).

In four weeks I will have my new gear, just in time for my return to work.  I’m looking at starting a graduated schedule the first week of December. More of that soon.

Celebrating 400 posts: is there a cake in there somewhere?

Thank you to blogger Tracy for this monumental image! http://tracycorrecaminos.blogspot.ca/2012/02/cuatrocientos-seguidores-cuatrocientos.html

Thank you to Spanish, Portuguese or possibly Catalan blogger Tracy for this monumental image! http://tracycorrecaminos.blogspot.ca/2012/02/cuatrocientos-seguidores-cuatrocientos.html

I have reached the milestone of 400 posts on this blog. I started it September 21, 2007 (coincidentally my daughter, Tessa’s, 16th birthday) as the mom blogger for Canadian Living magazine. I was a two-years separated, single—or I much more prefer the term, double—parent with three kids ages 16, 14 and 7. The blog has seen me through the rewards of parenting and the challenge of cancer and lymphedema, and with cancer in my rearview mirror it’s now about the longterm effects of that fight as I get back to work. I can’t say so much about my kids anymore as they all have control over their own social media selves and have varying degrees of approval regarding my posting about them. I’ll have links to Tessa’s latest dancehall videos in a future post if she says OK😀

And instead of cake, we had Dufflet Pastries sticky toffee puddings for dessert tonight. Oh yes, that’s how to celebrate!

Back to the bandaging

Here's a photo to celebrate International Coffee Day (http://internationalcoffeeday.org), a day I missed because of sloth-type behaviour of avoiding all forms of media for a couple of days. On International Coffee Day my first coffee was poured down the drain because the organic milk I poured into it was baaaaad. The 2 p.m. cup also went down the drain because Graydon mistook the unsweetened almond milk for grass-fed cow's milk. I can't stand almond milk in coffee or tea or me. Coffee is truly my drug of necessity—to say no to the constant call of my bed I drink a large coffee every hour for the first five or six hours of the day. That is the only way to beat my fatigue so far. This photo is what my days feel like, courtesy of meridian.com.

Happy International Coffee Day (http://internationalcoffeeday.org), a day I missed because of sloth-type behaviour of avoiding all forms of media for a couple of days. On International Coffee Day my first coffee was poured down the drain because the organic milk I poured into it was baaaaad. The 2 p.m. cup also went down the drain because Graydon mistook the unsweetened almond milk for grass-fed cow’s milk. I can’t stand almond milk in coffee or tea or me. Coffee is truly my drug of necessity—to say no to the constant call of my bed I drink a large coffee every hour for the first five or six hours of the day. That is the only way to beat my fatigue so far. This photo is what my days feel like, courtesy of meridian.com.

Being out of bandaging lasted for five days, then back into the Coban bandaging done by Lisa, my physiotherapist. My skin was all cleared up with just Polysporin. Dry blisters and old skin (ew!) meant it was OK to bandage again. I chose to go with Coban again because the trade off is worth it—$32 not covered by OHIP or my work health insurance plan, but it means I don’t have to do that ungodly bandaging or massage. It does mean I have to do mad lymphatic system pumping exercises and diaphramatic breathing (very hard on my scrambled brain to be doing movements, counting and regulating my breathing the whole time) (and embarrassing to have to admit that that combination of doing three things simultaneously is hard!!!). Since the Coban bandages have absolutely no stretch, when one gets the lymphatic system really pumping there is nowhere for the excess lymphatic fluid to go except out of the arm—or that’s the plan anyway.

I see Lisa tomorrow for the cutting off of the bandages and measuring to see if I’ve made more progress. Then, on Tuesday I go back to the Lymphedema Clinic at Princess Margaret and have the major measurements done to see how the arm and hand compare to my pre-flareup size. I’m not sure what the goal is according to them. According to me I want to be right back to the pre-flare measurements, so when I flare up again (keeping in mind that this is a chronic lifelong condition and I will flare again) it will be on my original lymphedema size, not on top of a new, bigger normal. If I reduce to, say, 6% larger than my left arm and then I flare again, it’ll be on a bigger arm. At that rate, my arm will just swell and swell and harden and harden. I picture a Violet Beauregarde scenario, and it isn’t pretty.

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