September 22, 2021

Well, I was right about my wrist problem. It is De Quervain’s. But I was wrong about the solution. Since it wasn’t getting better, I called my doctor who referred me to an orthopedic clinic where I went this morning. The hand and wrist specialist said that at the stage my wrist was, the splint would no longer work. He did a cortisone shot instead. All I can say is, Ouch.

The upside is that after a couple of days, the shot usually is 90% effective at relieving the symptoms and 50% effective at curing the problem. If it doesn’t cure it, the next step is surgery, so I’m really hoping for a cure. In the meantime, I’ll be thankful for pain relief.

I’m also thankful to have my first radiation appointment done. It was a little longer than it should normally be since they did a little tweaking again. Apparently I hold my breath too deeply. Go figure. At least I won’t need to worry about not being able to hold it long enough. It was fine. Plus they had to draw the radiation parameters on my skin for pictures. I never realized how often Sharpies are used in the medical field. Another go figure. One nice thing about it is that I can see where I need to apply lotion. And it’s way further under my arm than I anticipated.

So, here’s to another day of being poked and prodded but in the right direction. The countdown to Nov 4, my last treatment day, begins!

September 21, 2021

I got a call from my radiation oncologist’s office today with a last minute request to come in for X-rays this afternoon. It was the last step needed before radiation starts tomorrow. I’m scheduled from now through November 4th.

The X-rays were done in the treatment room, so I was able to get an idea of what my treatments will be like. The ceiling is designed to looks like a glass ceiling with the sky and tree branches visible. Music was playing. It was really nice. The techs and I jokes that we just needed someone to deliver margaritas.

I’m thankful I got radiation scheduled. I’m also thankful I got a glimpse of what my daily visits will look like. I think I’m ready. I have skin lotions, protein shakes, and intend to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate (my plastic surgeon’s suggestion).

September 16, 2021

I had my radiation planning session today. It involved a lot of laying down and being still. Not my best posture.

The hardest part of the hour and a half was keeping my arm raised. Even though I had it in an arm rest like in the picture below, my hand still fell asleep and my tight chest muscles burned.

Breast board image I found on Healthline.com.

Part of the process was getting CT scans while in this position that will be used by the radiation team to plan my upcoming procedures. A few times I needed to hold my breath, which will be part of my sessions. Holding my breath will help minimize the radiation effects to my heart as much as possible.

The final part for today was tattooing small black marks on my chest that will be used to position me in the same spot every session. That hurt more than I expected it to. I’m not sure how I feel about having permanent black spots on my chest, but it’s better than permanent cancer. So there’s that.

I’m thankful that things went well today, and I’m hopeful that I can start radiation next week.

September 8, 2021

I saw my plastic surgeon again today and he filled more of the tissue expander on my left side. He says he will likely stop here and wait until after radiation to do any more filling. By next Tuesday, it will have been 5 weeks since surgery, so his office will let my radiation oncologist know I’m ready.

I mentioned how sore and heavy things still seem, especially at night. I told him it feels like things are superglued to my ribs. He wasn’t surprised at my description and says he wants everything to remain in place. The heaviness and tightness, especially at night, are normal for now. His nurse also told me that it will take quite a while for everything to stop feeling sore (and weird).

While knowing I’ll be uncomfortable for many more weeks is not what I wanted to hear, at least I know it’s normal. I’m thankful for that. I’m also thankful that I was given the ok to have a glass of legit wine. Yay!

September 1, 2021

Today I got my final bandages removed. My appointment was with the nurse, but my doctor showed up anyway jokingly saying he couldn’t resist. I think he was curious about the incisions, which he claims are healing well. He also decided to add saline to the side that wasn’t fillable during surgery to start evening me out. After some discussion about upcoming radiation, he said he’d like me to come in next week as well to add a little more. Once radiation starts, we will probably stop filling until treatments are done.

It feels so much better having the bandages removed. Less pressure. However, I’m not sure I was fully prepared to seeing the incisions as they are. I was expecting something more delicate but these look angry and red. The skin is folded a bit too, which must eventually stretch out. It’s funny. Of course, the process of the surgery was explained to me ahead of time. I even did my own research. When my doctor did the markings before surgery, he told me what they meant and where the incisions would be and how the stitches would be underneath and eventually dissolve. But I didn’t ask what it would look like post surgery. Or during the fill process. Or even once it’s all done. I guess I just wanted the cancer gone and trusted that my plastic surgeon would put me back together. Now that I’m at this point, I have questions and I’ll know what to ask at my next visit.

It’s been 9 months since my cancer diagnosis. I’m thankful I’m so far along in this whole process and healing well. And I’m thankful that I trust my plastic surgeon, even though things look a bit dubious at the moment.

August 29, 2021

I slept terribly last night, meaning I barely slept. My legs bothered me. I couldn’t get into a comfortable position. My chest felt heavy. And why is it that trying to get to sleep makes it harder? Ugh.

I was hoping I could get back to work this coming week, but I think I need a little more time. My surgeons both said that 2 weeks was a minimum timeframe which is why my follow-up appointments were set for about 2 weeks post surgery. While I am definitely moving around better, I still find myself getting sore and uncomfortable by dinner time without doing much. I looked up normal recovery time for my surgery on cancer websites and most say 4-6 weeks. By Tuesday it will be 3 weeks. I’m getting close.

I’m thankful I have some flexibility with work (at least I hope I do!). I’m thankful I got to catch up with some friends today. And I’m thankful it’s almost bedtime.

August 25, 2021

Yay!! My plastic surgeon took out my drains today!

I will say that getting them removed was really something. I had two on each side, so two nurses worked together to take them out at once. After they clipped the sutures, they grabbed both and pulled in one long motion. All four at once. Patrick was watching and said each one was at least 12-18” long, and I could feel every twist as they came out. It burned but wasn’t really painful, thank goodness. Just weirdly uncomfortable.

While they took off the binding on one side, the P. Surgeon wanted to leave the other side intact for another week. Even so, he gave me the ok to shower again. BEST. DAY. EVER. Well, ok, best in a couple weeks. And I showered as soon as possible once we got back home. Because I could.

I saw my plastic surgeon in the afternoon, but I had an appointment with my general surgeon in the morning. He explained how his portion of the surgery went, giving us an anatomy lesson in the process. Did you know breast tissue typically extends up to the second rib and has to be peeled off of the chest muscle during a mastectomy? And that there is a visible difference between tissue and muscle? The upside to knowing this is that the area that showed positive margins for cancer was where the tissue and muscle met. That means my tumor was right to the edge of my breast tissue, and according to my surgeon, it wasn’t like the tissue extended into the muscle.

Now, since so much of this cancer stuff gets overwhelming and confusing and scary, I like to ask a lot of questions during my visits, sometimes repetitively, and without fear of sounding stupid. Yesterday I asked my oncologist if the only way cancer could spread is through the lymph nodes. He said yes. And then through the blood. He assured me that my breast cancer could not just move directly from my breast tissue into my muscles.

My takeaway is that there is a good chance my surgeon really did get all of the cancer, and any microscopic cells left behind should be eradicated by the upcoming radiation. I’m thankful for that. I’m also thankful that both my surgeons had the same reaction to how my healing is progressing —an almost surprised happiness. I think it’s because there was worry about adequate blood flow to one side. It was deep purple after surgery but today it’s almost bruise-free. Their reactions and explanations helped ease my mind about how things are going.

Today it’s going pretty good.

August 24, 2021

Today I saw my oncologist and radiation oncologist, so I have some next steps in place. The cliff note version for today’s gratitude is no more chemo. Yay! My oncologist says he hopes I never need it again.

That being said, I am considered high risk for a reoccurrence due to my initial type/size of cancer and that the pathology from my surgery showed that cancer cells were most likely left behind. That means at least six weeks of radiation that will target not just my left breast but the adjacent lymph node regions of my underarm and neck. The doctor wants to make sure they reach “deep” so as not to miss any areas of my chest wall. Fun. Once radiation is done, I’ll start hormone therapy that will last for 10 years. This piece, my oncologist emphasized, was absolutely necessary in the fight against reoccurrence. Once all my treatments are done, I’ll start follow-up visits every three months for two years and then every 6 months for three years. Good thing I like my doctor.

I’m hoping my visits tomorrow with my surgeons end with me getting my bandages and drains removed. I mean, I’m really hoping. Full disclosure: I was told I couldn’t get them wet which means no showering. I’ve been sponge bathing for the last two weeks, and I’m at the point of dreaming about a bath. Our neighbor has a fountain going 24/7 in their pool and I feel like it’s taunting me. I sometimes just stare longingly at our shower.

Besides the need for a dunk under running water, I’m also hoping bandages/drains are removed because they really are getting annoying. And painful. The radiation oncologist pointed out that the visible ridge I see is the metal section of my implants that are used for filling with saline. The binding is so tight that the skin along there has become extra sensitive so that even my clothes rubbing against it hurts.

The lower edge of the bandages are also coming loose and beginning to uncover the drain insertions. I put bandaids along the edge to try to stop it, but they aren’t holding up either. As the drains move more, they’re also starting to ache more, to say nothing about how gross they’ve become. (Sorry if you’re reading this while eating.) At the very least, I need a bandage change. Sponge baths only go so far when you’re wrapped in plastic during 90 degree weather.

At any rate, fingers crossed that tomorrow’s my lucky day. I’ll be extra, extra thankful. For today, I’m grateful to have some next steps laid out that don’t involve more chemo. In the words of my doctor today, radiation should be the easiest of all my treatment steps, so I’ve been through the worst.

August 23, 2021

Today I had more energy than I’ve had since surgery, which was a happy surprise. I was able to hang out in my craft room and get a few things put away that I hadn’t gotten back to in the last couple of weeks. I looked through some of my craft books and imagined some Halloween decorations I’d like to make. I hope my healing speeds up.

Speaking of the healing, I’ve started the suggested post-mastectomy exercises and feel like I’m getting more range of arm movement every day. It’s amazing how difficult moving my arms straight up has become. The stretch is real! But I’m going to continue so I can start feeling back to normal as quickly as possible.

I’m thankful for my bout of energy and for my continued healing. I’m also thankful for the help Patrick has been to me since my mom left. He’s made sure I’ve gotten my meds in time, helped me wash my hair and get dressed, opened doors and tucked me into the recliner at night. He’s been a trooper, but I’m sure he’s just as anxious as I am to get me back to normal.

August 20, 2021

Last night I started feeling tired of my drains, tired of the heaviness in my chest, tired of sleeping in the recliner. Today I think it’s the emotional toll of this surgery that has been weighing on me. I feel broken in a way I haven’t up until now.

I knew having a bi-lateral mastectomy would be hard. Since the binding the surgeon put on during my surgery is clear, I’ve seen the bruising and swelling, although the dressings hide my incisions. It was startling at first, but not unexpected, and every day it looks a little better. I’m not sure why the sadness has hit me at this point. Maybe it’s that I’ve spent the last couple of weeks mostly sitting around, and the inactivity makes me feel like an invalid. Maybe it’s these stupid drains that I’ve been carrying around in a fanny pack in front of me that I’m constantly aware of. Maybe it’s that my mom (bless her!) has spent all day cleaning my house for us while I’ve sat outside, out of her way.

Or maybe it’s that I haven’t quite accepted the changes that I knew were inevitable. I wish it were quicker. Off with the old, on with the new. But it can’t work that way. It’s coming in stages and requires healing time. As I type this I realize that really is the crux of it for me. I want to be finished, so I can really move on. I don’t like the unknowns that still linger.

The pathology from my surgery showed positive margins which means some cancer cells may have been left behind. If we weren’t going to do radiation already, we would be now. I was told there’s also a chance my oncologist could suggest more chemo. I hope not. Next week I see him as well as the radiation oncologist. I also see both surgeons again. By Wednesday, I’ll know the next steps.

Still, I’m thankful today that I’m on the mend. That I had such great help from my mom and sister the last couple of weeks. That I’ll have answers early next week. And I’m grateful that my days feeling broken are few and quickly over.