Three Month Follow-up with My Oncologist

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! 🙂 💕

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My 5th Surgery: Follow-up Appointment WARNING: GRAPHIC SURGERY PHOTOS

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.

3.5 weeks after surgery

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.

My 5th Surgery: Follow-up Appointment with My Surgeon **WARNING: GRAPHIC SURGERY PHOTOS**

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.

I know it looks gnarly, but I am not in much pain at all.

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.

Follow-up with My Surgeon & Another Big Milestone

Yesterday I had my six-month follow-up appointment with my surgeon. It has been six months since I received my clear mammogram and ultrasound results and ten months since my last surgery. Two years ago, I met my surgeon for the first time, and he knew just by looking at the ultrasound he was performing in his office that I had cancer. The next day he did my first biopsy, and a few days later, he diagnosed me with breast cancer. I can’t believe that it has been two years since that horrible day, but I am grateful that I have had him by my side, helping me fight this horrible disease over the past two years.

Everything looks good as far as healing from my last surgery, and I have no signs of complications. I told him about a few areas where I am having some pain when pressure is applied, like during a self-exam. He said that the pain is nothing for me to worry about; it’s very normal considering I have had multiple surgeries and radiation.

I also mentioned to him that the area under my left arm that has been painful on and off since my first reconstruction surgery back in November of 2019, is still uncomfortable. The area bulges out past the curve of my breast, making it difficult to wear a bra for an extended period of time; plus, when I am not wearing a bra, it is obvious if my shirt isn’t completely loose. I have tried lifting weights and working out when I have had the energy, but it hasn’t helped reduce the area at all. He said that I wouldn’t be able to exercise the area to reduce the size or for it to go away, and offered to cut it out if I would like him to. So, we scheduled my surgery for next Thursday, March 4th, at 9:00 am.

Do I want to go through another surgery? Not really, but the discomfort and the way the area feels and looks to me are enough to override my feelings about having a fifth surgery. Luckily this surgery will be quick like my port placement was, about 30 minutes, so my healing and recovery should be relatively easy to get through.

I will keep everyone updated as to what happens.

Three Month Follow-up with My Oncologist

As I said in my previous blog post, I have had some struggles recently. I have been trying to write about what has been going on, but it has been challenging to put it into words. I am still not prepared, but there may never be a good time, so I may as well start to talk about it.

I had a check-up with my oncologist back on the 7th of January. I didn’t write about my appointment right away because it was an unusual appointment, not my usual, “Yes, I am doing fine on my medication. My sleep is improving, as I am averaging just one night a week, where I am still awake at 5 or 6 am, instead of several nights a week. I am still fighting fatigue…blah, blah, blah…”

My bloodwork has improved to where all of my levels are normal except for my red blood cell count, it’s still low, and unfortunately, it may be my regular reading from now on. It’s not terribly low at all, 4.18, where 4.20 to 5.40 is a normal range. But being even slightly low, I can feel it, so hearing that I might not ever be in the normal range makes me terribly sad as I hate feeling this way. I asked if there is anything I can do, that some cancer patients say that they take iron to fight the fatigue. My PA said that I could take iron, but she cautioned me that it could upset my stomach, so I should take it only every other day to start if I decide to try it. She also said that she had heard that there is a liquid version that might be easier to take, but she hasn’t seen it, so she wasn’t even sure where I could get it. I am on the fence about taking iron, so for now, I am not doing it.

My PA explained that one of the essential readings they are looking at when I come every three months is my Hgb or hemoglobin. Low hemoglobin levels usually indicate that a person has anemia. There are several kinds of anemia: Iron-deficiency anemia is the most common type. This form of anemia occurs when a person does not have enough iron in their body, and it cannot make the hemoglobin it needs. High Hgb is known as polycythemia. This means you have too many red blood cells. Polycythemia vera is a cancer of the blood in which your bone marrow overproduces red blood cells. With polycythemia, a blood test also shows a high red blood cell count and high hematocrit. So low or high Hgb would be bad for me, it would mean I am either anemic, which was also a concern during my chemo treatments, or I have cancer in my blood. My Hgb is a little low, only one point from the lowest acceptable level, but nothing to worry about for now.

Now for the tough part…for most of my appointment, I cried a lot. It was hard to talk about, even with my PA, whom I adore. I kept looking away from her while I was talking and crying; I was embarrassed. Why was I crying? It was a lot of things, but mainly the fact that I have had an overwhelming feeling of guilt recently. Why do I feel guilty? As it is, it’s hard being a cancer survivor, and for me, it is tough because I have always had a great deal of empathy for people, but now it includes other cancer patients. Recently quite a few people I know, through various ways, are dealing with having a cancer recurrence. I feel guilty because I am still doing well; I am OK for the most part. They are experiencing my greatest fear, and I am feeling guilty because it isn’t me. It is also a reminder that my breast cancer was incredibly aggressive, and it could return at any time.

It is easy for most to say, “don’t live in fear, don’t worry about it,” but honestly, someone who says that to me clearly doesn’t understand how horrifying it is to go from barely needing to see a doctor to countless scans, blood draws, chemotherapy, radiation and four surgeries in a matter of fourteen months. All three of my doctors, my cancer treatments, everything I went through saved my life without a doubt, but it also damaged me in every way. I don’t know if I will ever be myself again, many cancer patients tell me that I won’t be, but I am doing everything I can to defy that future.

At the end of February, I will reach the second anniversary of my first appointment with my surgeon when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. In many ways, I can’t believe that it has been that long already, and in other ways, it feels like it has been a lifetime.

Thank you for being here; it helps to know that people care enough to read my blog, that the information I am sharing helps other cancer patients and their caregivers, and it helps me in more ways than I can say.

Follow-up with My Oncologist

Mood: Ecstatic! 😁

Sorry…this post was scheduled to publish back on October 6th, but apparently, it didn’t show up in my blog…

I had a great check-up with my oncologist on October 6th! My white blood cell count is finally in the normal range…yay! My red blood cell count is still a little low, but it is nothing to be overly concerned about….I had a feeling that it was still down because I am continuing to deal with fatigue. There isn’t much I can do to help my immune system get back to normal other than what I am already doing. My body needs more time to heal from everything that I have been through, and he reminded me again that everything having to do with my treatments and surgeries has been a trauma to my whole being. Time, I just need more time….

I am doing well on my medication. I do not have any side effects to speak of now, so that has been a relief. Ten years is a long time to take medication, and sometimes it makes me sad that I have a little pill that I take daily that reminds me of everything that I have been through up until now but, I can’t imagine not taking it. I will never understand it, but many women opt out of taking hormone-based chemotherapy drugs. In my case, I would never forgive myself if my breast cancer returned and I couldn’t say that I had done everything possible to keep it from returning.

To end my appointment, we went over my mammogram and ultrasound results from August. He agreed with my surgeon that everything looks good and that I do not need to be concerned about the cysts. I would be lying if I said that I am not a little concerned in the back of my mind no matter what I am told, but I think that is normal for any cancer patient. Once we were done with our discussion and my questions about the cysts, he was pleased to tell me that I am officially cancer-free!! 💕 What an amazing feeling it was to hear him say that!