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.

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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 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.

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.

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 ♥

Deported!

PortaCath

I am no longer the unhappy host of a purple heart-shaped power port! My chest is appliance free!

Last week I was at St. Mike’s at 7 a.m., two bruises on my arm from unsuccessful blood draws the previous day, for the procedure. An hour later, paper booties and gown on, I had the start of two more bruises and was waiting for the “IV nurse.” I don’t know if that’s an official title, or she was called that because of her reputation, but two minutes after she walked in, she had the IV launched. I met a very sweet nurse outside the operating room who said no problem to medication that would have me cool and calm through the procedure, then met the same doctor who inserted the port in February, and it all went off without a hitch. It took half as long to take it out as it did to put it in.

I did have a special request, which was to take my port home with me. Not for me, but for Graydon. When his port was removed when he was 11, after 30 months of chemo, SickKids refused to hand it over—too degraded. So when he asked for mine, I said sure, and the doctor said sure too. He also said Graydon was getting a far better one than what they used in 2001, when his was inserted. They popped it into peroxide, and when they handed it to me, it looked like it would make a nice pendant, with the right wire and beadwork.

The doc left me with an incision that is barely visible—it is incredible. I’d post a pic of it, but the bruising obscures the line right now, so it’ll wait.

Back in my little day surgery cubicle, I had another super nurse who went to bat for me for a pain med—the early hour I had to leave the house that morning left me a little scattered, and I left my meds dosette at home, and I was going directly from the procedure at St. Mike’s to Princess Margaret for radiation, and the freezing was already leaving my chest!

She came through, and that, with my good pills at home for the next day, was all the pain medication I needed. I give St. Michael’s Hospital an A+ for this day.

One more step to the end of treatment out of the way!

Now Graydon is the patient

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Here’s one way to stop thinking about yourself—have one of your kids get sick, really sick.

Graydon had a headache, cough and pink eye on Tuesday, a headache, cough, fever and pink eye with severe eye pain on Wednesday, drove him to his doctor Thursday morning, didn’t like the hasty dx and prescription, so went to St. Joe’s Emerg (it wasn’t doctor shopping, but looking for the expertise to diagnose and treat a possible corneal infection) and got far more serious eyedrops and a referral to the Ophthalmology Clinic. All the running around and waiting in the car at Emerg—although I have finished chemo, I have no new blood counts to show me where my levels are, so no way was I going inside that emergency department—his wonderful girlfriend went in with him—I slept through the alarm Friday morning, making Luka late for school. After driving Luka to school, I passed out on the couch, and woke up at 2:30. I went upstairs, Graydon came out of his room with blood-red eyes and the left side of his face puffed out like a case of mumps. I told him to get straight in the car, and we went back to St. Joe’s.

By 5:30 a.m., a doctor assessed him as possible measles, which meant isolation, gowning up in those fetching yellow outfits, masks and gloves. Over the next two full days in isolation in Emergency, he was seen by the infectious diseases doctor, ENT, neurologist, had x-rays and CT scan head and neck, and was diagnosed with pneumonia and a walloping infection in his eyes, cheek and ear. He was SO MISERABLE. He was moved into a real room upstairs, isolation again, on Monday. On Tuesday, late in the afternoon, he turned the corner and was so much better! Discharged this afternoon, Wednesday.

Last night, I got sick. Figures. Sore throat, coughing, achy, a fever last night of 99.6 to 100°. Right now I’m at 101.3, which is beyond the limit of staying home when you’re on chemo. So I have called my oncologist and will explain the situation to her. I’m hoping that since my last chemo was three weeks ago, my doc will assume my counts are good enough to stay home. After 72 hours in one Emerg, the very last place I want to go tonight is another.

Will let you know…