January 26, 2022

I finally saw my plastic surgeon again tonight. My appointment was moved twice because he had emergency surgery or a procedure to do. It’s frustrating to keep moving things out further and further, but at this point, I’m really at the mercy of his schedule. And the last time they bumped me, I insisted they put me in the schedule every two weeks preemptively. I figured if he’s getting that busy, I needed to secure the appointments I could up front and hope I don’t keep getting rescheduled.

Tonight we started the overfilling of my small side. Holy buckets of saline. I wasn’t expecting another 2 full syringes full. That side is SO full and big right now. And hard. It’s like a block of wood sitting right on my already tight arm/chest muscles. I told Patrick it gives me a weird sense of claustrophobia. Like when you’re trying to pull one arm out of your coat and it gets stuck sort of behind you and you can’t quite free it. It’s something I can’t move and restricts my muscles. And the plan for my next appointment in two weeks? Add more. Yikes.

But on the upside, it’s another appointment done. I’m thankful for that. And my doctor said my skin is really tolerating the stretching well, which is great considering how badly burned it got from radiation. I’m grateful for that, too.

December 16, 2021

Yay! Patrick made it home safely. I’m thankful his trip went well and I’m happy to have him back. So are the pups. They were a bit mopey this evening, probably because I wasn’t in the best of moods today, so they were pretty excited to see him show up. He brought Christmas presents from his parents, so it now looks like Santa visited here already. And he brought me this cute t-shirt from Buc-ee’s, which is a Southern convenient store chain. Happy holidays!

Today I also saw my oncologist and had my first hormone shot designed to shut down my ovaries, so I found myself back in the infusion center.

My doctor was right—the needle was big. Apparently the hormone is a seed that is the size of a grain of rice, so the needle needed to be big enough for that. The nurse kept telling me not to look at it. The shot was in my stomach and I got two shots of lidocaine ahead of time, so I didn’t really feel it anyway. I was more freaked out by the long list of side effects they are required to go over ahead of time. At any rate, it’s over. I seem to be ok so far. And I’ll be doing this every three months for the next couple of years. I’m thankful this follow up went well.

December 8, 2021

I saw my plastic surgeon today. He says the way radiation shrank my skin means we will have to overfill my left breast to get it to match closer to the right. Apparently this will require overfill, removal, then more fill so the skin can stretch and relax. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?

We didn’t talk timeline this time, but we did start the fills today. He was just going to fill the left side but I asked to add some to the right as well. I was hoping it would help alleviate the uncomfortable creasing that happens when the spacer folds on itself. Since it’s now more full, it does feel better. The downside is that it’s more obvious that my breasts are uneven. Thank goodness it’s sweater weather, so it’s easy to hide.

I go next week for another fill. If it goes well, my doctor said we’ll continue weekly. I’m hoping it might mean my surgery can happen sooner, but I’m not getting my hopes up. He did mention again that he will need to do liposuction on my stomach to fill in spots during my surgery. I’m not even offended that his statement meant I had stomach fat because, yay! He’s going to remove it! Bonus. I may need to rethink the size breasts I want because I have fat elsewhere he could use, too.

I kid, of course. I just want to look proportional when all this is done. And I’m thankful to have gotten this next part started today.

November 4, 2021

I’m done!! I had my last radiation treatment today! This was me and Patrick.

I brought a box of small cupcakes for the staff and they gave me a “diploma” which was The Ten Commandments of Cancer Surviorship and a bag of items with special meanings.

On my way out I got a hug from the nurse who worked with me the most and even one from my doctor. When I got to my car, this song was on the radio. I couldn’t clap along since I was driving, but I absolutely was happy.

Finally, I got this delivery from my mom, with such a sweet message it made me cry.

I’m so thankful for this day that seemed so long in coming. I’m done!!

November 1, 2021

This is my last week of radiation. Woohoo! It’s crazy how quickly my skin damage has increased.

This is the worst spot under my arm which has just started to peel. My doctor today said that he expects all of my skin to peel eventually. He offered to write a prescription for pain medicine since it’s gotten pretty painful, as you can imagine. However, I don’t do well with those, so I opted to keep using ibuprofen. I’m hoping that continues to help.

The thing no one really tells you about radiation is how much it can tighten the muscles in the area. A lot of my pain is also from the tightness; it’s almost as if my ribs are bruised. I think part of it is that I don’t ever feel relaxed and that tension in my body doesn’t help. So I keep trying to stretch my chest and shoulder muscles regularly. I’m also getting sharp pains regularly along the side that I’m assuming is the surgery nerve damage I was warned about. I’m only guessing (because I forgot to ask my doctor today) that it may be more noticeable from the muscle tightening.

It probably goes without saying that I’m so thankful that this is my final week. Thursday is my last day. And the nurse today said there’s a good chance that without the bolus accentuating the radiation, my skin may not get much worse these last few days. Three more days. I can do it. I can.

October 27, 2021

Well, today I saw my plastic surgeon because it felt like my spacer had fallen on the non-radiated side, and I wanted to make sure that wasn’t abnormal. After waiting over an hour because he was in a procedure that ran overtime, he came in with a med student. I’m pretty sure she must not have seen radiated skin too often; she seemed uncomfortable seeing me. In fact, even the nurses seemed uncomfortable looking at me. One of them gave me a blanket as I was waiting because they keep it so dang cold in those offices. She tried to drape it over my shoulders but finally gingerly handed it to me instead, saying she didn’t want to hurt me. It wasn’t like I was sitting there topless either. I guess the triangle of very red skin peeking above the neckline gives it away.

At any rate, my plastic surgeon has a much different take on my skin than my radiation oncologist. He wasn’t pleased in the least. I got a lot of tips on skin health, including the urging that I drink collagen-infused protein shakes twice a day. Apparently, I can worry about losing weight later. He also said the radiation is melting the stitching across my incision, and if it pulls apart any further, I need to see him right away so he can put in another stitch or two. We then talked about a time frame. I knew that I’d need to let my skin heal for 6 weeks after radiation before seeing him again. But he said with the amount of damage I have, we will also have to do my fills slowly. He thinks it will be a full 6 months before he can do my final surgery where I have my spacers swapped out for the final, soft implants.

Friends, I cried the entire drive home. I barely made it to my car before the tears started. Six months? Another six months with these uncomfortable spacers reminding me of this stinking “journey”I never wanted to be on? UGH. Remember at the beginning of the year when I thought my timeframe had all of this completed by Christmas? Silly, naive, optimistic me. Then I readjusted my thinking to be ok with Jan, maybe Feb. Now we’re looking hopefully at April. I hope it’s not an April Fool’s joke.

So…where’s the gratitude today…Well, my ride home was only 10 mins, so the crying didn’t last that long. I also reminded myself that I have 6 more radiation treatments to get through, and they are targeted differently, so the skin across my incision will now be spared. Hopefully that part can begin healing. My doctor said not to worry about gaining weight, so I’ve been given permission to be my pudgy self. Oh! and the reason for the visit–the fallen spacer–was a non-issue. It’s just my skin on that side relaxing as expected and readjusting the spacer underneath. If I’m honest about it (what else can I be at this point?!) that side does feel better than it did a month ago. So maybe I’ll get used to things after all.

October 26, 2021

I saw my radiation oncologist today since I wasn’t able to see him yesterday. Yesterday the radiation machine needed servicing so my treatment was moved to a later time spot, and he wasn’t available for a skin check. Even though I hate to say it, my doctor was right. My skin got a lot redder than a week ago. It hurts, especially where my skin rubs under my arm. There were some small blisters there I was worried about that broke prior to today’s appointment.

My bright red underarm

While things look intense, my doctor says that my skin is actually looking pretty good all things considered. He suspects it will start peeling soon in some spots.

Tomorrow starts my “boost” week where they will focus the treatment deeper than it has been. That means the sides of my breast will get the main skin effects. I’m grateful that the skin across my scar will be somewhat spared, but I’m cringing at the thought of my armpit getting worse. Gah. If you see me over the next few weeks with my arm in the air, just wave.

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 3, 2021

One week to surgery and I had my pre-op appointment with my general doctor to get clearance. Unfortunately, I didn’t know I’d have bloodwork done or I wouldn’t have eaten a chocolate cupcake just beforehand. Surprise! My glucose is high. I should just put that on a t-shirt. I’m pretty sure it was high every time I had bloodwork during chemo.

And even though my swollen fingers have gotten a bit better, they’re still not right after several weeks, so I mentioned it to the doctor. She added a couple tests for arthritis to the blood panel, so there’s that. Every week I get about ten years older. The first test results looked normal to my untrained eye, but the other results aren’t posted in my online chart yet. I’d cross my fingers if they weren’t too fat.

The nurse who did my blood draw was flabbergasted by my picture in my chart. She looked at it, then looked at me, then back at my picture. Finally, she asked, Have you seen your picture on here?! I laughed when I realized what she meant and told her I was sporting my chemo hair. I’m pretty sure she thought they hadn’t updated my picture in 20 years. She had the grace to tell me it looked good, and I think she felt bad for not noticing the diagnosis in my chart.

So while I seem to be falling apart bit by bit, I’m still good to go for surgery. The countdown now begins while I keep telling myself it will be fine. All is good. At least I’ll have young boobs when it’s all over.