Appointment With My Oncologist

When I had my appointment with my oncologist on August 5th, I was hoping that my red blood cell count would finally be in the normal range, but it isn’t quite there yet. I wasn’t too surprised as I have been tired lately and not feeling the greatest. At this point, nothing but time will help, so I am trying to be patient.

I am still having a lot of issues with my memory. It seems like only my short-term memory is being affected, but it is starting to drive me crazy. My oncologist asked me if I am still “fuzzy,” and I said that yes, I am still having issues. So, I am taking a week off Anastrozole to see if it helps clear my head or not.

Once I have my next appointment in December, I will finally be on a different schedule with my oncologist. I will switch from seeing him every three or four months to every six months. I am making progress, and it feels good!

My 5th Surgery: Recovery **WARNING: GRAPHIC SURGERY PHOTOS**

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.

My 5th Surgery: Revision of My Reconstruction Surgery **WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTOS**

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.

Prepped for surgery!

Getting Back To Me

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.

I am getting back to me, day by day…. ๐Ÿ˜

Fatigue & Depression

I have been going through quite a bit of fatigue and depression lately. I am still experiencing fatigue almost every day, so when I do have a burst of energy, I make sure to take advantage of it. On days when my entire body is hurting, I try to remind myself that I had my 4th surgery not that long ago, so I don’t need to be so hard on myself when I just want to rest. Resting has become another problem in the form of not being able to sleep properly. It is not out of the realm of possibility for me to be awake until 2 or 3 in the morning, sometimes even later, at least a few nights a week. I realize that fatigue is linked directly with depression, so I am beginning to understand how everything I have been dealing with within the last few months is all part of the same problem.

Not all of my depression is linked to breast cancer, but most of it is. I was talking to a breast cancer patient the other day, and she was asking me how long it has been since I had finished each portion of my treatment. I hadn’t thought about the timing of everything in a while, so as I was answering her questions, I was surprised that time has passed much quicker than I thought. It has been 11 months since my last chemo treatment, 7 months since my last radiation treatment, and 4 months since my previous reconstruction surgery; at times, it feels like a lifetime ago, but when I am having a bad day, it all seems like it happened yesterday. Even with all of that time passing so quickly, my body and mind are still healing. I have been experiencing what I thought were some of the side effects that I had at the end of chemo again, but chemo ended almost a year ago, so I am beginning to realize that some of them are symptoms of depression, as described below. Luckily, we are going on vacation soon, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect. I need a break; I need time away from everything that has been hurting my heart and soul lately, and I need to get my mind and body back on track, and I will!

Depression may be a side effect of breast cancer and fatigue is often a symptom of depression. Some people may have a tendency to depression, which treatment can make worse. At the same time, fatigue itself can lead to depression. Not knowing why you feel drained week after week, and not knowing that this abnormal feeling is normal for many people going through treatment, can make you depressed.

Treatment for breast cancer may leave you feeling sad, tired, or depressed. These feelings are complex conditions, resulting from and affected by many factors: your cancer diagnosis and treatment, aging, hormonal changes, your life experiences, and your genetics.

If you’re abruptly going through menopause 10 years earlier than you naturally would, with a quick lowering of hormone levels, you may experience feelings similar to postpartum depression.

Sadness is a natural part of your breast cancer experience, something you need to express and move through. If you don’t allow yourself to feel sad and grieve, the unresolved grief gets in the way of feeling better and getting better. You may be having hot flashes and trouble sleeping. You may be feeling overwhelmed or even debilitated. All of these factors can lead to fatigue and depression.

How can you tell the difference between fatigue, sadness, and clinical depression? The symptoms of clinical depression include:

  • an inability to cope
  • an overwhelming feeling of helplessness and hopelessness
  • inertia
  • an inability to concentrate
  • memory problems
  • panic attacks
  • loss of pleasure in what used to make you happy
  • lack of interest in sex or food
  • sleep problems

If you think you’re depressed, talk to your doctor. If your doctor doesn’t have experience treating depression, ask for the name of an accredited psychotherapist. Together you can sort out if what you’re feeling is depression or extreme fatigue. Therapy can help you feel supported and allow you to talk about what’s bothering you. Antidepressant medicines can help ease feelings of sadness and anxiety and help you feel better. An accredited psychotherapist with experience treating depression can help.

Anastrozole

Here is some information on the hormone therapy drug that I will be taking for the next 10 years. I know that some of the possible side effects sound scary but I have found that most drugs that are used to fight cancer have side effects. It is important to remember that every cancer patient is different so not everyone will react in the same way or deal with the same side effects.

Anastrozole is used to treat breast cancer in women after menopause. Some breast cancers are made to grow faster by a natural hormone called estrogen. Anastrozole decreases the amount of estrogen the body makes and helps to slow or reverse the growth of these breast cancers.

Side Effects:

Hot flashes, headache, trouble sleeping, dizziness, stomach upset, nausea/vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight gain, tiredness/weakness, increased coughing, or sore throat may occur. If any of these effects last or get worse, tell your doctor or pharmacist promptly.

Remember that your doctor has prescribed this medication because he or she has judged that the benefit to you is greater than the risk of side effects. Many people using this medication do not have serious side effects.

Tell your doctor right away if you have any serious side effects, including: bone pain, easily broken bones, joint stiffness/pain, muscle pain/stiffness, mental/mood changes (such as depression), numb/tingling skin, swelling hands/ankle/feet, shortness of breath, unusual vaginal discharge/bleeding/burning/itching/odor, pain/redness/swelling of arms or legs, vision changes, signs of liver disease (such as nausea/vomiting that doesn’t stop, stomach/abdominal pain, yellowing eyes/skin, dark urine).

Get medical help right away if you have any very serious side effects, including: chest/jaw/left arm pain, confusion, trouble speaking, weakness on one side of the body.

A very serious allergic reaction to this drug is rare. However, get medical help right away if you notice any symptoms of a serious allergic reaction, including: rash, itching/swelling (especially of the face/tongue/throat), severe dizziness, trouble breathing.

Precautions:

Before taking anastrozole, tell your doctor or pharmacist if you are allergic to it; or if you have any other allergies. This product may contain inactive ingredients, which can cause allergic reactions or other problems. Talk to your pharmacist for more details.

Before using this medication, tell your doctor or pharmacist your medical history, especially of: heart disease (such as history of heart attack), bone loss (osteoporosis), liver disease, high blood pressure, blood clots.

This drug may make you dizzy. Alcohol or marijuana (cannabis) can make you more dizzy. Do not drive, use machinery, or do anything that needs alertness until you can do it safely. Limit alcoholic beverages. Talk to your doctor if you are using marijuana (cannabis).

Before having surgery, tell your doctor or dentist about all the products you use (including prescription drugs, nonprescription drugs, and herbal products).

Since this drug can be absorbed through the skin and lungs and may harm an unborn baby, women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant should not handle this medication or breathe the dust from the tablets.

Anastrozole is used mainly in women after menopause. If you have not gone through menopause, this medication must not be used during pregnancy. It may harm an unborn baby. Discuss the use of reliable forms of birth control (such as latex condoms) while taking this medication and for at least 3 weeks after stopping treatment with your doctor. Products containing estrogen (such as birth control pills) should not be used. If you become pregnant or think you may be pregnant, tell your doctor right away.

It is unknown if this drug passes into breast milk. Because of the possible risk to the infant, breast-feeding while using this drug and for at least 2 weeks after stopping treatment is not recommended. Consult your doctor before breast-feeding.

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