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 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.

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.

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…. 😁

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.

How Do You Tell People That You Have Cancer?

Telling people that are close to me that I was diagnosed with breast cancer was a very personal and difficult decision. I am sure you are thinking that I am crazy for saying that and I would have agreed with you when I was first diagnosed, but I don’t agree now. Why wouldn’t a patient want to tell their family and friends? Or, what would make a cancer patient regret telling them? It will probably surprise you to know that I have spoken with some cancer patients that didn’t tell anyone, or that after the fact, they had wished that they hadn’t.

Family members, friends, and co-workers are never comfortable hearing that someone they know and care about has received a breast cancer diagnosis. It is a hard subject to discuss and every cancer patient knows that to some degree once they start telling people that they have cancer, the flood gates open with questions and in some cases blame. It is sad but true that sometimes out of fear, people are ignorant enough to ask a cancer patient what they “did or didn’t do to get cancer”. I can tell you that I was blaming myself early on. I was sure that it was my fault, that I had done something wrong and that is why I ended up with breast cancer. I know now that it was ignorant of me to blame myself. I didn’t do anything to cause my cancer, cancer chose me.

Sometimes people stay away because it is easy for them to assume that since someone they know was terribly sick during chemo, that you will be too; or someone they know did not survive breast cancer, so you won’t either. Understandably, they are afraid to be close to you because they think that you will die and it will hurt more if they step into the reality of your cancer so if they don’t talk to you, it isn’t real. I have found myself reminding people that I am still me, that every breast cancer patient’s experiences and outcomes are different, even if they have the exact same diagnosis. So many factors go into how a patient will respond to chemo and radiation treatments as well as undergoing multiple surgeries like most of us do, so it is impossible to predict what will happen. I am happy to say that I am doing well now that I am well over a year out from my diagnosis…I am a survivor!

I didn’t tell anyone right away because my husband and I were in shock and we needed to process what was going on. I also had my first biopsy to go through and I wanted to have the specifics of my breast cancer before sharing the information with anyone. Just a few weeks later once all of the test results were back, I told my family and close friends first through phone calls and private messages. As the news spread of my diagnosis, some people reached out to me immediately and others often times the people I wanted to talk to the most, stayed away from me, not knowing what to say. I can’t blame people for distancing themselves because I understand how hard it is to hear about the pain, endless doctors’ appointments, and everything else that I had to endure both physically and mentally for months on end. I also understand that people think that they would be bothering me or burdening me if they wanted to talk about things that they are going through, but if that is what they are thinking, they couldn’t be more mistaken. Right now, especially while I am laid off from work, I need my friends and family, I need to connect with people.

Being diagnosed with breast cancer has taught me that we never know what tomorrow will bring. Putting off spending time with the people that we care about and love should not be left until tomorrow, or next week or when we think we will have time because time is not on our side. {Yes, I know that the virus we are all dealing with is not helping bring us together, face to face, but there are other ways to communicate.} Sometimes the choices we make will only bring us to feelings of regret in the future, and sometimes it is too late to go back to the cherished moments we should have had with those that we love and value.