Today I had my three-month follow-up appointment with my oncologist. As usual, we spoke about how I am doing on Anastrozole. I am continuing to do well with no major side effects. I still have eight years and ten months to go, but all should continue to go well as time passes by.
He also wanted an update on how I am doing since my last surgery, which was a month ago today. I told him that I am very happy with my results and that I have healed well with very little pain. He said that he finds that surgeons often don’t prepare their patients concerning the pain they will experience after surgery and how long it can go on. I agreed that realistic expectations aren’t discussed, and for me, that was hard because in April 2019, when my cancer was removed was the first surgery I have ever had in my life. Yes, I knew there would be a pain, but I would have never guessed at just how long after surgery I would still have pain here and there.
My blood work was done today as well, and my red blood cell count is still a little low. We are thinking that moving forward; my count will be a little low; it’s where my system has settled after everything I have gone through, and I am OK with that as long as I continue to stay healthy.
I am just about to reach my second significant milestone with my oncologist. I will have one more follow-up appointment in three months, and then I am graduating to the six-month plan, which signifies my being two years out from when I started chemotherapy with no recurrence. Over the next three years, I will see him every six months until I get to the five-year goal of being cancer-free. He was happy to tell me that I am still cancer-free and doing well! I am beyond grateful and happy!
Last Wednesday, I had an appointment at my surgeon’s office to have my steri-strips removed. I briefly noticed that when my appointment was made, the scheduler said a different name as far as who I would have my appointment with, and it was not my surgeon. I didn’t think much of it, and she didn’t say anything else about the appointment, so I didn’t ask her about it.
When I went to my appointment, I wasn’t too surprised that a different doctor, a PA, walked into the room with a nurse, but I was silently wondering what was going on. By this time, I was three weeks post-op, and out of about thirty steri-strips, I had only three left that were still attached to my incision, so removing them was quick and easy.
After he removed the steri-strips, I asked him, “so am I not seeing my surgeon anymore?” He looked surprised that I asked him that. He responded by asking and saying, “They didn’t tell you about me? I have so many years of experience.” No, they didn’t tell me that I would not be seeing my surgeon anymore. So he went on to say that he wanted to see me in two months, and my mind was racing. I asked him about my annual mammogram coming up in August. Last year, my surgeon ordered and scheduled my mammogram and reviewed the results with me. He said that he would release me to my regular physician and that his office could take care of it. I let him know that I had decided to find a different doctor to see and that since I see my Oncologist every three months and he draws my blood each time, I am not in a hurry to find a new doctor. He said he would see me after my mammogram in August, no need to come in, in two months.
I can’t remember my exact wording, but I told the PA that I would rather my surgeon order my mammogram and follow up with me like he did last year. He again told me how many years of experience he has, and I said, “I have been coming here for two years; it’s about my comfort level.” I didn’t want to insult him, but at the same time, I wanted to make sure that he understood what I was saying. So on my way out, I stopped by to schedule my follow-up appointment after my mammogram in August, with my surgeon. His office will schedule the mammogram a few days before the follow-up appointment, and they will let me know the dates and available times I can choose from.
I was numb when I got home from the appointment. I kept running the conversation I had with the PA through my mind. After getting over the initial shock of everything, I realized just how paralyzed and uncomfortable I was during the appointment, so I decided to call the office manager the next day and talk to her about it. When I spoke with her, I explained that I was uncomfortable during my appointment for several reasons. Not only was the PA a different doctor, but I have been my surgeon’s patient for over two years, so we have a rapport with each other, I am comfortable with him, and I trust him. Quite simply, I don’t know the PA, so I was uncomfortable as soon as he walked into the room. I told her that I was not informed that I would not be seeing my surgeon anymore, which didn’t help the situation. Also, because I have had so many surgeries, including breast implant placement, I want to continue to see my surgeon annually for my mammogram and exam. Yes, I could see any doctor for a mammogram, but he is a breast specialist, so it makes sense to see him for that particular part of my health plan each year. I also let her know that I was so uncomfortable that I held the paper top I had on closed until the PA went to look at my incision. If I had been seeing my surgeon, I wouldn’t have even put the left side up on my shoulder because I knew that he would be looking at my incision and removing any remaining steri-strips; again, it is about my comfort level.
She completely understood how I felt and said that the PA had been there since June 2020 to help out with follow-up and routine appointments because, sadly, my surgeon is inundated with patients. She said that some patients don’t care about seeing the PA, but some are like me and prefer seeing the surgeon. She apologized for how I felt and said that if I am uncomfortable seeing the PA, I don’t have to see him. She even put a flag on my file, noting that I only want to see my surgeon moving forward. I let her know that I would like to go ahead and see my surgeon for a follow-up in two months before I go on vacation, and she made that appointment for me.
Thanks to my call with the office manager, I feel much better about the whole situation, and I will confidently walk into my appointment in May. I didn’t ask her who was responsible for explaining to me about the PA and his role in my care; it doesn’t matter now that everything has been resolved. Was it wrong not to inform me? Absolutely! People make mistakes all the time, but I won’t let myself dwell on the situation. I am choosing to move forward knowing that my wishes will be honored.
Yesterday, I had my first follow-up appointment with my surgeon. Once the tech was done with my blood pressure check and updating my information, she removed my bandage. She apologized at one point because she was pulling on the bandage a little harder because the gauze was sticking to it. I assured her that she wasn’t hurting me because I was still numb under my arm from my first surgery almost two years ago. I asked her how the incision looked, and she said that everything looked good. She then told me that my surgeon would be in soon to see me and left the room.
A few minutes later, my surgeon walked in. I turned to look at him and noticed that he had a winter coat on. I had been sitting there with half of my paper top on burning up because the heat was on. I laughed and said, “You do know that it is 73 degrees outside, right?”; He smiled and said that for some reason, he is always cold when he is in the office.
I have a ton of steri-strips, about 30, and my incision is about 9 inches long. This is my most extended scar so far, but because of how my surgeon combines internal stitches with steri-strips for healing, my scar will be minimal, and it will become less noticeable with time. The scar on my chest’s right side from the first reconstruction surgery is barely noticeable 17 months later, so I am sure this scar will be the same.
Once we were done talking about this recent surgery, he said that this should be my last surgery. He is confident that I will be fine from here on out and that I will not require any further surgeries. The only way I would need surgery in the future would be if I develop Capsular Contracture. We are both aware from previous conversations that I could develop that particular complication because I went through many radiation treatments and I have implants. I will need to stay mindful of any changes that I am noticing and let him know. The only way to fix Capsular Contracture is to go back into surgery and have my breast implants replaced, so hopefully, I will never have to deal with that.
I asked him if I can start walking on my treadmill. I told him that I had finally fought off the fatigue plaguing me for over a year and that I was getting back to working out again before this last surgery. He said, “so you are itching to get back on,” to which I replied, “yes, I have been since the day of my surgery!” He said that I could walk on my treadmill, but I can’t swing my arms; I need to keep them at my sides, and I can’t do anything too strenuous. I need to keep resting and healing over the next two weeks, and then I should be released from any restrictions once the steri-strips are removed during my next appointment. I told him that my goal is to lose another 20 lbs or so, and he said that it would be ideal for me to do that as it is essential to keep my body mass low considering the type of cancer I had. Estrogen-fed breast cancer thrives when a patient’s BMI is too high, and mine is too high because I am about 20 lbs overweight. So the best thing I can do for myself to keep from having a recurrence of my cancer is to continue exercising, watch my portions, and what I am eating to get to an ideal weight and BMI.
To end my appointment, I thanked him for doing this last surgery. I let him know that I could feel the difference later on, on the day of my surgery, that the area was gone, my chest looks much better, and that I felt much better. I said, “First, you saved my life, and now you are helping me improve my life. I will never be able to thank you enough.” He looked down and away from me when I said that to him, with an almost bashful look. His reaction at first surprised me, but then it didn’t because his genuine reaction reminded me of why I am so grateful that he is my doctor and how lucky I am that he has been by my side from the beginning. He does not have a big ego like some surgeons; he is passionate about his work, humble and caring, and it shows.
When my husband arrived at the post-op area, I asked him to see if I had any drains coming from the surgery site. I was pretty sure that I didn’t have any, but I wanted to know for sure. I completely understand the need for them, but drains are the worst! I have had two surgeries where I had drains; both of the surgeries required two drains, and they make recovering from surgery that much more challenging. They have to be emptied twice a day, and it seems like they are always in the way of anything I might be trying to do. Plus, for me anyway, there is a constant feeling of the drains pulling on my skin; it is a weird, uncomfortable, and sometimes painful sensation.
Once I was dressed and ready to leave the surgery center, my husband and I stopped by the pharmacy to pick up my medication. This time around, my surgeon did not prescribe an antibiotic, only Oxycodone for pain and Promethazine for nausea. I called my Dad while hubby was in the pharmacy, and I don’t remember much of the conversation other than him telling me that I sounded out of it, and I was, but I didn’t think I was that bad, or I wouldn’t have called myself. When hubby got back to the car with my medication, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to eat yet, so we decided to go home and get something later once I was a little more coherent.
After we got home and I was feeling a little more awake, I went to the bathroom to look at my bandages. I was surprised to see one long bandage and nothing else. Wow!! Is my incision that long? I have a bruise peeking out from about the middle of the bottom of the bandage, but the pain is minimal, as I am still numb under my arm from my first surgery back in April 2019.
My recovery has been up and down over the last few days, which I know is normal after any surgery. The first two days after surgery are usually the hardest, and then it usually gets more manageable. I slept a lot the first few days, a real sign that my body is working hard to heal from the recent trauma of surgery. I had a ton of muscle spasms in my back during the first few days after surgery, and I am still having them now, but they have eased off quite a bit. I am assuming that they are because my incision is not isolated to my chest this time. I have also had a lot of nausea almost every evening after dinner. My husband says that I have had nausea after every surgery, but I don’t remember having it after more than a few days. I have an excellent nausea med to take that works pretty fast, but still, I would like it to go away sooner rather than later. Yesterday I felt good, and I was hoping it would carry into today, but it didn’t. Today I have been feeling tired and just off; I really don’t have a good way to describe it.
I am starting to itch under my bandage, which I know is a good sign that I am healing, but I am also starting to have pain in a few spots. The pain is not so bad that I have to take anything more than Extra Strength Tylenol, which is good because I stopped taking the Oxycodone every six hours, a few days after surgery. I try to stop taking Oxycodone as soon as possible because it scares me. I am only taking it once a day now, usually before bed, and I hope to stop taking it very soon.
I also have the bottom part of my bandage lifting away from my skin, so I know my surgeon will remove it tomorrow during my follow-up appointment, and hopefully, he will not replace it. My husband took a peek under my bandage before he pushed it back down onto my skin, and he said that I have a lot of steri-strips and some stitches along my incision. If the bandage isn’t replaced, I will finally be able to take a shower, and that will definitely help me feel better. The last shower I took was last Thursday morning, right before I went to the surgery center. I can’t get my bandage wet, but I can use a washcloth and soap, so I have been doing that, but it isn’t the same as taking a nice hot shower. Today I couldn’t stand my dirty hair any longer, so my husband washed my hair in the kitchen sink. He has never washed my hair before, not once in the almost 21 years we have been together, but, at least during my breast cancer journey, this is the first time I have had enough hair to get dirty every few days since I started having surgeries in April 2019.
I will update again soon with pictures once my bandage is off and with the details of my follow-up appointment with my surgeon.
In a previous blog post, I wrote about my follow-up appointment with my surgeon on February 22nd. During that appointment, we agreed it was time to remove the lump under my left arm that has been bothering me for over a year. We scheduled my surgery, and I started to prepare for it. By prepare, I mean following the pre-op instructions that I am given, such as making sure I stop taking certain medications a few days before surgery.
My surgery was on Thursday, March 4th, at 9:00 am at the surgery center. This time I had to go to a hospital-associated clinic and get a rapid Covid test the day before surgery. I didn’t have to pay for the test, so that was a relief because I still do not have medical insurance, and I will have to pay the surgery center fee, my surgeon, and the anesthesiologist directly out of my pocket.
Just like my surgery in April 2020, my husband had to drop me off at the front door of the building. He wasn’t allowed to go up to the surgery center with me and sit with me until I went into surgery due to Covid, but he can come to see me once I am awake in post-op. Once my surgery was over, my surgeon called my husband and let him know that everything went well and that the post-op nurse would call him once I was awake.
I went through all of the pre-op steps with my nurses, such as changing my clothes, getting an EKG, checking my blood sugar, hooking up my catheter, signing paperwork, etc… My surgeon came by to take a look at the area he was removing and to mark a few spots as a guide for himself. He asked me if I had any questions; I didn’t as I am sadly getting used to this process, so he said he would see me soon and left. A few minutes later, my anesthesiologist stopped by to check on me and ask me a few questions. He grabbed a stool and sat right beside me, facing me, as he spoke with me. Little details like what he did just to talk with me is why I prefer to have my surgeries at the surgery center versus the hospital. At the surgery center, I do not doubt that I am getting the best care, one on one, which reassures me that I am being cared for by people who love what they do and want only the best for their patients.
Before I went to the OR for my surgery, I went to the restroom one last time. I know it probably sounds silly, but I always worry that I will pee during surgery accidentally, so I make sure to take care of that just in case. I have never asked anyone if it is even possible to do that, but I guess it is a superstition of mine as I have done it right before all of my now five surgeries. Anyway, when I came out of the restroom, I had two nurses waiting for me, and one of them said, “We are going to walk you straight to the operating room from here.” I laughed and said, “What, I don’t get a ride this time?” They explained that since I was already up and mobile from my bed, I may as well walk directly into the OR. It is a short distance as well, so why not walk in? I told them that I like walking into the OR better because I don’t have to perform the awkward maneuver of moving from my bed to the OR table.
This surgery was much shorter than my previous surgeries, being only about 30 minutes long. The last thing I remember is one of the anesthesiologists; I had two of them this time because one of them was shadowing, commenting on the smell of the mask he put over my mouth and nose; we agreed that it smelled like a new plastic beach ball, and then I was asleep. By the way, I have never had anyone ask me to count backward as I am falling asleep; almost all of the anesthesiologists I have had have told me to think of somewhere else I would rather be at that particular moment.
Everything went well with my surgery, and before I knew it, literally…hahaha, one of my post-op nurses was welcoming me back and asking if I wanted something to drink and what kind of crackers I wanted. When I had surgery at the hospital, they never gave me a choice; I had water and saltines, but the surgery center is different and better in so many ways, including giving me a choice of what I wanted. I sipped my water and ate a peanut butter cracker as I woke up a bit more and waited for my husband to arrive. As usual, I was nauseous, so the nurse gave me some medicine in my IV. I did have the anti-nausea patch behind my ear, but it wasn’t working; it rarely works on me for some reason; I am not sure why.
I will update you about my recovery in a few days and how my follow-up appointment went with my surgeon, which is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
Cancer takes so much away from both patients and caregivers. A little over a month after my diagnosis, I had the first major surgery I have ever had in my life, and during that surgery, cancer took a portion of my left breast away from me. Once I started chemotherapy, little by little, the drugs and cancer began to take even more from me. Cancer took all of my hair, some of my toenails, it dried out my skin, it aged my face and body, it took my confidence, energy, health, and my overall well-being both mentally and physically.
When I heard from other cancer patients that it could take a year to two years to recover from fighting cancer, I didn’t believe them. Before cancer, I always thought that I was strong and doing reasonably well health-wise, other than having type two diabetes. I lost over 100 pounds a few years ago, and I had even discovered in October of 2018 that I was starting to enjoy running.
I am often asked if I had any signs that I had cancer before I found the first tumor during a self-exam in February 2019. Looking back, I did have symptoms, but I didn’t know it at the time. About one week before Christmas in 2018, I started a run, and five minutes in, I was out of breath and extremely fatigued. I was bothered that I couldn’t continue, but I just assumed that I was coming down with a bug or something, so I wrote it off and promised myself that I would get back to running as soon as I felt the energy to do so. When my husband and I went home to see my Dad for Christmas, I noticed that I felt even more exhausted than I had a few weeks earlier. It seemed like no matter how much sleep I got, it wasn’t enough, and the simplest task wore me out. Then a few weeks into January 2019, I woke up one day with my left shoulder blade, my shoulder, and the left side of my neck hurting. I thought that I had slept funny on that side and that it would work itself out in a few days; it didn’t stop hurting until I had my first surgery when all of the tumors were removed.
As I sit here two years after my breast cancer diagnosis, I am beyond thankful for so many things. Recently, I am most thankful for the fatigue I have been suffering from for so long, finally subsiding and helping me get back to me. I never really knew what real fatigue felt like until I had aggressive cancer and had to go through a rigorous schedule of scans, blood draws, surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments to save my life. But now, I am getting back to a regular schedule when it comes to working out, and with each workout, I feel better and better. Last night I ran 1.50 miles in 20 minutes, not bad for someone who has been through so much and hasn’t gone on a run in over 25 months! I am proud of myself and I am really enjoying working out again.