Two Weeks Post Surgery – August 27, 2015

It’s been 2 weeks since my surgery!  I was a pretty good patient and tried not to use my right arm at all for the 2 weeks in order to prevent lymphedema.  Let me back up.

The morning of the surgery, I reported to the Breast Imaging Center so that a locating wire could be placed in my breast to the clip which was inserted at the tumor site before I started chemo.  Then I was carted over to Nuclear Imaging so that a radioactive tracer could be injected into my breast, to help with the identification of lymph nodes. I will tell you that little injection hurt like nobody’s business – so much so that the nurse told me I could squeeze her hand as hard as I needed.  Fortunately the pain was short lived.  By then we were running late, so I was taken in almost right away at the Surgecenter, and my sister (who drove me) couldn’t come to visit.  After vitals were taken and I dressed for surgery, the anesthesiologist came to see me.  I knew that the surgery was scheduled for 3.5 hours, which meant I’d likely have heavy narcotics for the anesthesia.  So I warned the doc that I don’t react well to anesthesia.  He thanked me for telling him and said he would take extra precautions; we then discussed getting a patch which I could leave on for 1-3 days to help with post-surgery nausea.  I agreed, and shortly after the anesthesiologist left, I got a visit from Dr. White, my plastic surgeon.  He then “marked” me for the surgery, taking measurements and marking my breasts with a Sharpie.  Then Dr. Ching came in to check on things.  She reiterated that the surgery may need a follow up surgery if there aren’t clear margins from what she was going to remove.  I told her I had faith that everything was going to be fine – that I’d need only one surgery.

Soon thereafter I was wheeled into the OR, where the anesthesiologist was waiting.  I was out just a few minutes later, and woke up in recovery four and half hours later.  Dr. Ching came out to talk to my sister and let her know that everything looked good; she removed 3 lymph nodes in addition to the tumor area and a few other areas. Ted arrived at some point so my sister could go to work, and so it was Ted who joined me in recovery.  About an hour later I was ready to go home.

Despite the patch, I had nausea for the next day.  I finally decided to remove the patch and since I wasn’t in a ton of pain, to switch from Percocet to Tylenol.  Once I did that, the nausea stopped although I had very little appetite.  I’ve also had diarrhea pretty much since my last dose of chemo on July 31, and 10 days of antibiotics did not help. The diarrhea continues, but I’ve started taking Imodium again and that’s helped.

I’ve had experience not using my right arm before; in November 2011 I had right shoulder surgery.  My arm was in a sling for a while, although I was not 100% compliant, I know what it’s like to have to use my non-dominant hand for everyday tasks.  At least I didn’t have to worry about brushing and washing my hair one-handed! Actually, I wasn’t allowed to take a shower until my first post-op with Plastic Surgery, exactly a week after my surgery.  I tried my best not to use my arm, and since I was banned from using the computer, I’ve discovered the joys of Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming.

On Monday the 17th, 5 days after surgery, Dr. Ching called me with the pathology results.  The news could not be better:  NO CANCER ANYWHERE!!  The tissue removed around the tumor site showed all signs of having been changed from chemo; the additional areas removed had no cancer as well as the 3 lymph nodes removed.  No second surgery is needed.  Dr. Ching said that I was one of the rare people who is a complete responder with chemo, so all those months of chemo were totally worth it. It feels really great to know that I don’t have any cancer!

You might ask if that means my treatment changes at all, and it does not.  Because I chose a lumpectomy rather than mastectomy, I will still need radiation (for 5-6 weeks) and I still need Herceptin (targeted chemo) until May or so.  But to know that I have no more cancer has been the best news since, well, December 15, 2014.

My best friend Kim took me to my first post-op, after which we went to lunch.  After a lengthy surgery and a week of doing nothing, it was amazing how much that one little outing tired me out.  I went to bed very early the next two nights, sleeping a lot more the following day.  That told me that the surgery – and 6 months of chemo – has really taken a toll on my body, and it’s best if I rest as much as possible during my medical leave.

On Monday, I had an appointment with Dr. Ching, to which my friend Kim took me again.  Dr. Ching said that my breasts looked great.  I admitted that I hadn’t been 100% compliant about not using my right arm, and she said it was okay – that they tell patients not to use it at all, expecting not 100% compliance but maybe 70%, and that was actually enough to prevent lymphedema. Since I didn’t have lymphedema, and things were looking good, my next appointment with Dr. Ching is in six months.

I got clearance to be able to use a computer, knit and drive, so today I drove myself. First thing in the morning I had a blood draw because I’m scheduled to have Herceptin tomorrow, and then I went to Target to pick up a few things.  I felt faint in Target, another sign that I need to take it easy while building up my strength.  I came home and took a nap.  Naps are good.

I had another post-op with Plastic Surgery in the afternoon.  Dr. White came in to see how I was doing, and he seemed pleased with my progress.  I asked him about some areas which seem to “pooch” out; Dr. Ching mentioned that Dr. White could liposuction those areas.   Dr. White said he could but wants to wait for 6 months, when things should finally settle down from the surgery.  Then the PA removed the plastic bandages which covered my stitches. The stitches will eventually dissolve, but as the swelling recedes, some stitches get uncovered before dissolving.   The PA trimmed some of those, removed the glue using a type of “Goo Be Gone” for the skin, then dabbed antibiotic ointment around my scars.  She wants to see me a week before we leave for Maui, because if my scars aren’t closed by then I won’t be able to swim.  ūüė¶  Otherwise, I don’t need to see Dr. White again for 6 months.

I then went to Oncology:  I had an appointment with Dr. Priya, in which we mostly chatted about my nieces and nephew, and the pressure on high school students.  That was after we discussed that my magnesium was low (I’ll get 2 gr tomorrow), and that I can get my teeth cleaned now.  I told her that I was going to get an implant for the infected molar which was removed, and she told me to put it off until next year. I asked her why, and she said that with the chemo, surgery and radiation that she wanted my body to recover before getting an implant.

So how do I feel?  There is soreness in my right armpit, where the lymph nodes removal scar resides.  There is tightness around the scars under my breasts, and I need to wear a bra 24/7 (or as much as possible) for at least another week.  I’ve tried not wearing a bra, but after a few hours, my breasts get sore and tight, so a bra helps.  At least I can switch to a sports bra, or a camisole with a bra built in.  The bra which I received post surgery provides more compression than support, and I was getting tired of it.

Nerves were all messed up and jumbled during surgery, and it takes about 6 months for them to figure out what they should be doing.  What that means is there have been nights when I’ve been woken up by a shooting pain in my breasts.  It happens during the day, too, but when you get woken up by sudden pain…well, it’s just surprising.  At least the pain isn’t constant or all that painful – it’s more of a shock than anything else.

A work colleague set up a Meal Train for us for the past 2 weeks, and it’s been a big help for Ted not to have to cook in addition to taking care of me and the boys (our 4 cats). The generosity of people never ceases to amaze me, and I am ever so grateful for all the support we’ve received.  In addition to the Meal Train, I’ve gotten 3 beautiful bouquets of flowers, a gift certificate for dinner delivery, chocolate covered strawberries, homemade cookies, numerous get well cards – the list goes on.  I am a bit overwhelmed at my “village” and thankful for all of you in my life.

I plan to continue to rest as much as possible, but to start to resume some activities. After all, football season starts next week!  Fall is my favorite time of year.  I hope radiation doesn’t take too much out of me; I start in October and hopefully I’ll be done by Thanksgiving.  I’d love to host Christmas this year!

Twas the Night Before Surgery – August 11, 2015

Just a quick post.  Everything starts tomorrow at 8 am.  I have to go to the Breast Center for a wire localization procedure, and then at 9 am to Nuclear Medicine, where a dye will be injected.  The dye is to help identify lymph nodes. Then I report at 10 am to the SurgeCenter; my surgery is scheduled for 11 am.

The surgery is scheduled for 3.5 hours, and then I’ll be sent home.  I’ve picked up antibiotics and pain meds (percocet, my drug of choice!), and had some blood work and an EKG.  A small moment of panic when I received a call from Dr. Ching’s office informing me that my EKG was abnormal and my primary care physician needed to okay the surgery given the abnormal EKG.  My PCP did authorize the surgery, explaining that the result wasn’t so much abnormal as it was different from the last one I’d had.  Whew!

I will remain in the dressing that I’m sent home with for a week, when I have my first post-op with Dr. White’s (plastic surgeon) office.  Hopefully by then the drains can be removed (i.e., I’m draining very little) and I can finally take a shower.  My first post-op with Dr. Ching is the following Monday, when I will hopefully get the release to be able to drive.  I have chemo that Friday, so it would be great to be able to drive myself rather than bother family and friends to be my chauffeur.

Someone at work set up a MealTrain for Ted and me.  It’s a way to ask folks to provide meals for us – very cool!  Folks can drop off home cooked meals, or provide gift certificates for DoorDash, Munchery or the like.  This will relieve Ted from having to cook AND take care of me for the next couple of weeks.

Wish me luck!  While I’ve had 5 prior surgeries, those have all been orthopedic in nature – this one will be very different.  I understand that hardest thing to adjust to is nerves firing, not necessarily soreness as from surgeries which cut into muscle. I’ll find out soon enough!

WOOT! No More Taxol! – July 14, 2015

I met with Dr. Priya today, and I got the news I wanted: ¬†NO MORE TAXOL! ¬†She agreed with Dr. Colocci that 8 weeks of Taxol, in combination with the Taxotere I’d already received, is enough. ¬†This means that I can move onto the next stage of my treatment, which is surgery.

As I also suspected, though, Dr. Priya does want me to receive one more round of Perjeta, so that I’ll have received 4 treatments. ¬†So I’ll have that in a couple of weeks, along with Herceptin. ¬†I’ll continue to receive Herceptin every 3 weeks from now until March/April, except for a few weeks off around my surgery. ¬†All this means that the timing just might work out for my already booked vacation at the end of September, even if I need 2 surgeries to get clear margins.

I called Jennifer, the nurse educator, to give her the good news, and to get the process started for my surgery. ¬†There are a lot of things to get lined up now. ¬†And I suppose there might be decisions to make. ¬†Originally I was opting for a “lump and lift” – a lumpectomy along with a breast lift of both breasts. ¬†Now that there’s no tumor to remove, I’m not sure that a lump and lift is still a viable option. ¬†I suppose I’ll have a whole new round of appointments soon with Dr. Ching and Dr. White, the plastic surgeon. ¬†Regardless, I’m happy that I won’t need any more general chemo.

Last Friday, which as it turns out was my last general chemo infusion, I got the whole cocktail – Taxol, Perjeta, Herceptin, and my friend magnesium. ¬†That made for another 7 hours at the infusion center. ¬†I’m going to miss my long sessions at the center – I’ve gotten to know the nurses pretty well, and certainly the routine. ¬†I’ll continue to visit the center, but my sessions should now be much, much, shorter.

As has been true for the past 3-4 weeks, I’ve been able to handle the side effects of the chemo much better. ¬†I still have diarrhea, but it’s mostly under control. ¬†Most importantly, I’ve managed to avoid nausea. ¬†I really am convinced that drinking 30 oz of water first thing in the morning – before doing anything – has helped with the nausea. ¬†They are quite serious when they said to drink 90 oz of fluids a day! ¬†My advice to anyone getting chemo – drink that 90 oz! ¬†For me, drinking 30 oz first thing in the morning jump started my intake for the day – I probably routinely drink 60 oz during the day, and the additional 30 just ensured that I was getting enough fluids.

On Saturday I went with 3 friends on a “yarn crawl” – think pub crawl only one visits various yarn stores rather than pubs. ¬†I spent far too much on yarn that I don’t “need” but had a ton of fun! ¬†I can’t wait to go on another one! ¬†And the organizer is thinking of organizing a weekend retreat on the coast, complete with private classes. ¬†I’m all over that!

This is a very big week at work for me…we go live tomorrow with a new database system. ¬†A 2 year project, I could not have done it without the fantastic people with whom I work. ¬†Truly, I am blessed, both professionally and personally – ¬†today is my anniversary! ¬†Happy 30th anniversary, sweetie!

January 5, 2015

Today was the first day back at work since the holidays, and the first chance I had to tell my staff and colleagues about my breast cancer. ¬† I was not afraid to tell them; after all, I’d already decided to be very open about my cancer, and I knew that they would all be supportive. ¬†I felt badly about giving this news to one staff member whose father was just diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer – I’m sure it feels like cancer is all around for this person. ¬†And I felt equally bad for the person who started crying. ¬†You two know who you are: ¬†for the first, I’m sorry to have added to your emotional burden and for the second,¬†‚ô• to you for your sensitivity.

Today was also the day that I posted my status on Facebook – which means I’ve let the genie out of the bottle now! ¬†I’ve always planned to be very public about this: ¬†if my diagnosis and treatment can help even one person be more diligent to do her breast self-exams and get her annual mammograms, then my job is done. ¬†Naturally, I’m extremely touched and humbled by all the outpouring of love, support, prayers and encouragement – you all rock, my friends!

Onto more mundane things. ¬†I have an appointment with Dr. Priya, my medical oncologist on Monday. ¬†For some reason she feels the need to discuss more specific treatment now that we know that I’m HER2 positive. ¬†It’s fine – I have a few questions which have come up since our first consultation, such as: ¬†will I have hair loss for the entire year because of the Herceptin? ¬†Am I candidate for Perjeta? ¬†Will I get a port for the Herceptin? ¬†Is it recommended that folks who visit me get a flu shot?

My pre and post op appointments have been set.  My pre op appointment is on Jan 27, so my last day at work will be Jan 26 for at least a month.  My sister will be able to take me to my post op appointment on Monday, Feb 2.   It takes a village.  It really does.

December 29, 2014

My surgery got scheduled today, and it’s a lot later than I’d hoped – January 28 at noon. I was really hoping for a mid-January date, but we needed to coordinate 2 surgeons’ schedules, since I’m having the lumpectomy and reconstruction while I’m under. ¬†I guess that gives me more time to get things ready, but it will make my work schedule much more difficult.

I had lunch with a friend today who suggested that after I’m done with the 52 week targeted chemotherapy (Herceptin) that I should have a celebration in which everyone has to go sky diving with me. ¬†I think that’s a most excellent idea, so y’all are on notice. ¬†For those of you who don’t know, I went sky diving in September this year and it was the BEST experience I’ve ever had. ¬†Sky diving was on my bucket list, and when I got the opportunity to do it (thanks Sherry and Kelsey), I grabbed the chance. ¬†There was nothing like the sensation of free falling at 110 mph. ¬†I said I’d do it again in a heartbeat and I meant it. ¬†Brent, I’m gonna hold you to your promise to come sky diving¬†with me!

Tomorrow I have a consult with the radiation oncologist.  Radiation seems so far away right now.  Baby steps.

December 24, 2014

My appointment with Dr. Ching, my breast surgeon, did not exactly go as planned, but in a good way.  I was to go over the MRI report with her, and then she wanted to do a biopsy of what she believed was a lipoma (common benign soft tissue tumor) on my left breast.

The report from the MRI showed that there was no cancer on my left breast, and the lipoma did not show up at all, which confirmed Dr. Ching’s belief that the growth was benign. ¬†The cancer, however, lit up like a Christmas tree, both with and without contrast dye. ¬†On the scans you could clearly see that “one of these is not like the other” as Dr. Ching said several times. ¬†The MRI also showed 2 other, smaller growths which could either be part of the original growth, or the beginnings of a multi-foci cancer. ¬†Either way, those will get removed during surgery along with the main tumor and sentinel lymph node. ¬†One area of concern is how close my tumor is to the skin; depending on how much has to be removed to achieve clear margins, the proximity to my skin may be a problem. ¬†Dr. Ching will be removing 1 cm over and above the tumor and the 2 other growths, so she’ll be removing at least 3 cm of tissue.

Next we discussed what might happen during and after surgery. ¬†15% of surgeries are not able to get clear margins, which means a 2nd surgery. ¬†I hope I’m in the 85%. ¬†Post-surgery, I cannot move my arm for at least 2 weeks except to do 4 exercises. ¬†No holding a Kindle to read, no knitting and definitely no computer work. ¬†I guess I might want to sign up for Netflix streaming, and it’s back to doing routing tasks with my left hand. ¬†I learned to use my left hand when I had right shoulder surgery, but with that surgery I could use my hand. ¬†Not using a hand at all will be very interesting.

We discussed that even though I had a consult with Dr. White in Plastic Surgery on Friday about reconstruction, that I’d pretty much decided to have a “lump and lift” so that my breasts¬†will be of more even size post-surgery. (The lift is to address “ptosis of the breasts” – sagging breasts. ¬†Apparently I’ll be perky afterwards…) ¬†I still need to find out all the information about the reconstruction, and to be comfortable with Dr. White, but assuming it’s a go after Friday’s consult, the wheels will begin to move to schedule the dual surgery (excision and reconstruction). ¬†The disappointing news was that the surgery schedule is full for the first week of January, and already quite full for the 2nd week. ¬†The earliest possible date is January 13, assuming the plastic surgeon is even available that date. ¬† More likely the surgery will be the 3rd week of January. ¬†I just want this thing out of me, plus the later the date, the later my full recovery.

Then I was prepped to have the biopsy. ¬†After laying out all the instruments, and a little bit of a wait, Dr. Ching came in and started to sterilize the area. ¬†Then she said, “wait, if you’re going to have the lump and lift, Dr. White can remove the lipoma when he does the reconstruction. ¬†Let me see if he’s available.” ¬†So she gets Dr. White, who does a short exam, and says he can remove it no problem, and that I was also a good candidate for a lift.

So that was it. ¬†I got dressed, confirmed that the next time I’d see Dr. Ching is for the surgery and picked up a copy of my MRI report. ¬† At least I don’t have to ice my breast for 10 minutes every hour for Christmas Eve!