16 Months in Pictures

Mood: Amazed 😌

As I was looking through my pictures the other day I noticed that I have a picture of myself, taken in most months from when I was diagnosed with breast cancer up to the present time. So I decided to make a collection showing how I looked before breast cancer {the first picture} all the way up to how I look now {the last picture}. You can clearly see when the chemotherapy treatments really started to effect how I looked; the loss of my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes, my skin getting dryer and my fine lines showing more.

It’s a given that the last 16 months have been hard on me both mentally and physically.  But, nothing tore me down and damaged me more than the chemotherapy treatments did. Chemotherapy took a part of me that I will never get back. When the chemotherapy treatments were over I realized how much the drugs and the stress of everything I had been through up to that point had aged me, a lot. Looking back through my pictures it’s easy to see how much my face has aged and it breaks my heart. I am doing what I can to undo the damage but it has not been an easy process.

Follow-up with My Surgeon

Mood: Good 😁

I had another follow-up appointment with my surgeon yesterday and I realized that it has already been a month since I had my surgery. It seems like time is flying by, but that is not a bad thing at all.

He took a look at my incisions, said that everything looks great and that I have healed well. I asked him if he could take out my sutures as one of them had been hurting me to the point of needing pain pills after the steri-strips came off over the weekend. So after taking another look he said that he could take them out. I am sore now that they are out and I will be for a few more days, but I am much more comfortable now.

We talked about the pain that has developed on the side of my left breast and he is not sure of the cause. This is an area that we have talked about before because I noticed it after my first surgery and it bothered me as the bulge in the area is noticeable, to me anyway, and it has never gone back to normal size. He actually pointed out the area to me when we were talking in pre-op before my last surgery, and he said that he couldn’t do anything about it that day, but we could look at it later on if it was still an issue. At that point it wasn’t causing me any discomfort or pain so we moved on to the details of the surgery on that day.

He took a look at the area and there isn’t anything out of the ordinary visibly or by touch, considering how many surgeries I have had, that would indicate my being in pain. He did directly touch the area that hurts while examining me and I let him know that it hurt. I asked him questions about the possibilities of what could be causing me pain but nothing made sense. I thought that it might have something to do with this last surgery but he doesn’t think that they are related, just a coincidence. He also doesn’t think that the pain has anything to do with the fact that I had so many lymph nodes removed during my first surgery. He asked me if I have any pain in my upper arm and I said that I don’t, that it is actually still numb from my first surgery.

He can remove the tissue in the area that is bothering me but he can’t guarantee that I will be out of pain once it is removed. He also said that he doesn’t like operating due to pain because he would be essentially doing the surgery blindly as he would be taking out the tissue in the area without actually seeing a problem internally. I have another follow-up appointment in a month so we will see how I am doing by then.

I have to say that I really appreciate the fact that my surgeon takes the time to answer my questions and discusses the details with me so I understand what my options are and what we are talking about. Having a surgeon that genuinely cares about my well-being makes all the difference in my attitude and healing.

 

8 Exercise Routines That Don’t Involve a Gym

A long time ago I had a gym membership with a friend of mine and eventually that friend stopped coming to the gym, even no showing our trainer. I kept my membership and continued to go to the gym but as soon as my membership was up I decided to find a way to workout at home. I have done a few of the suggestions below and I have found that a gym is not needed. Now with online classes both live and on demand and affordable home equipment, it is easy and convenient to workout at home. My workout schedule has been on and off over the past year due to extreme fatigue from treatments, generally not feeling well and having multiple surgeries. I intend on getting back to regular workouts soon and in the meantime I have been working on keeping my eating as healthy as possible so I am steadily losing weight. If I can do it, you can do it….there is always something you can do.

By Lorna Collier Last Updated: May 8, 2019

Skip the Gym and Get Fit at Home

You want to exercise, you really do, but it’s tough to fit a trip to the gym into your jam-packed daily schedule. Not to mention gym memberships can be expensive. Or it may be intimidating to think about working out next to pumped-up hard bodies if you’re just looking to stay fit. Whatever your reason, avoiding the gym doesn’t have to mean giving up exercise. Try these tips to reach your 30 minutes of daily activity outside of a fitness center. 

1. Video Workouts

Want to avoid spending money on fitness DVDs? Many local libraries have collections of workout videos you can check out for free. You can also buy used copies through online classifieds or garage sales. Streaming sites like YouTube or your cable’s on-demand service can also be budget-friendly sources of video workouts. Government agencies like the American Council on Exercise and the Centers for Disease Control also offer free online exercise videos. Seniors can get a free exercise DVD tailored to older participants from the National Institutes of Health. 

2. Exercise Videogames

Videogame platforms like the popular Wii Fit for Nintendo use technology to track your body’s movements, so you can play games like tennis or golf virtually, as well as ride bikes, box, and dance. One study showed that participants burned more calories playing Wii’s boxing module for 30 minutes than through brisk walking. Exer-games can be a fun way to stay fit at home, though you will need to use them regularly and with intensity. Along with the Nintendo Wii, you can find exer-games for PlayStation and Xbox, too. 

3. Home Gyms

These days, it’s possible to build your own home gym on any size budget. You can buy firsthand from sporting goods and fitness stores or score used equipment from garage sales, resale shops, or online resources like Craigslist. Friends or relatives also may want to find a new home for the treadmill that’s taking up dust in their basement, so let them know you’re looking. Many discount stores carry small exercise items, such as fitness balls, jump ropes, and resistance bands, making it convenient to complete your home gym on your weekly shopping runs.

4. DIY Equipment at Home

You don’t even necessarily have to buy equipment to exercise at home. Do you have stairs? Voila! You have a StairMaster. Want to do step training? You can swap out a pricey exercise step for a stepstool or sturdy chair. Large cans of food or 12 packs of soda make effective hand weights. Finally, use your own body as a weight, doing planks, push-ups, lunges, jumping jacks, and balancing poses to increase strength and tone muscle. 

5. Mall Walking

Walking is the easiest, least expensive activity to fit into your day. If you want to get out of the house but don’t have anywhere outside that you’d like to walk, or if the weather is bad, consider becoming a mall walker. Some malls even open early to allow mall walkers to make their way through the halls, which is especially good if you want to avoid slower-moving crowds of shoppers. Keep in mind that for a workout, mall walking is more than just an excuse to window shop. Walk fast enough that singing would be difficult, but not so fast that you can’t talk. 

6. Household Chores

It can be hard to get to chores when you think of them as, well, chores. But as fitness boosters, they’re a sure thing. Vacuuming, scrubbing floors and walls, and many other household tasks can rev up your cardio system or challenge your muscles enough to help you get fit. Outdoor chores like gardening or sweeping the garage count, too. Just keep your mind open to possibilities as you go about your daily tasks and remember to do them energetically enough to break a sweat and get your heart pumping. 

7. Outdoor Clubs

Community clubs and activity groups offer a fun and social alternative to the gym. The Sierra Club, for example, has lists of local hikes, bicycling trips, and other outdoor activities you can join. Search online social sites like Meetup.com for groups and people near you who are interested in outdoor activities like walking, hiking and other outside-the-gym fitness pursuits. For a more intense outdoor workout, try boot camp programs in local parks run by trainers who can provide a gym-level workout outside a traditional gym. 

8. At-Home Personal Trainers

Certified personal trainers don’t only work with clients at gyms. They also make home visits and can design personal workout routines for you in the environment you prefer. You can check with your local fitness club for referrals, or visit personal training professional associations like the American Council on Exercise to find qualified trainers in your area. 

Our Wedding Anniversary

Today is our 16th wedding anniversary and I can’t help but look back at this time last year as it was a major turning point in my breast cancer journey. The day after our 15th wedding anniversary last year I started aggressive chemotherapy. I had already gone through my first surgery to remove the cancer and my second surgery to place the port in my chest for my chemotherapy treatments, but little did I know at the time that the most difficult fight of my life was just beginning.

Everything was so overwhelming and it felt like I was floating through all of the doctors appointments, surgeries, scans and tests in a daze. The day of my first chemotherapy treatment is somewhat of a blur now but I do remember sitting down in the chair in the treatment room and starting to cry. I was terrified as I realized that the nurse was about to pump horrible, destructive drugs into my body.

My husband looked at me and asked “Why are you crying?” I said, “It’s so overwhelming knowing what is about to happen to me, what I am about to go through.” He came and sat closer to me and held my hand, trying to comfort me. He had already been through countless appointments, surgeries, etc….with me, but he has never wavered. He has been by my side through many tears, pain, sleepless nights and so many other stages of fighting aggressive breast cancer.

I love you sweetie! Happy Anniversary and thank you for being my rock during the most difficult fight of my life! 💕

16 years and counting! 💕

5 Tips for Coping with Fear of Breast Cancer Recurrence

I agree with so much of what this article talks about. Will I ever not worry about recurrence? Probably not, but I can find a place for that worry in my life, somewhere in the background. Some days I am overwhelmed by thoughts of recurrence, usually sparked by a sudden pain in my breast, which I still have from time to time. The pain is not surprising considering I have had three surgeries on my chest, and it takes awhile for the nerves to fire back up, so I try not to over react. My next mammogram is in August, 6 months after finishing radiation, so I will know for sure at that point if I am cancer free.

Medically reviewed by Krystal Cascetta, MD on May 12, 2020 New — Written by Theodora Blanchfield

Fear of breast cancer recurrence is common among survivors — but it doesn’t have to control your life.

For many breast cancer survivors, the fear of recurrence can be all-encompassing.

You may feel guilt for this — like you should feel more grateful for your health — but it’s completely normal to have both gratitude and fear, says Dr. Gabriela Gutierrez, LMFT, clinical oncology therapist at Loma Linda University Cancer Center.

“Cancer is like an earthquake with many aftershocks,” she says. “Just because the big one of is out of the way doesn’t mean the ripples are gone.”

The journey transitions from a physical one to a mental one, and it may be a lifelong battle. In fact, nearly half of patients have some fear of recurrence.

The good news is that you’re not alone and there are ways to cope.

1. Normalize the fear

Unfortunately, fear is part of the journey, says Gutierrez. It’s perfectly normal that you’re feeling this way. In fact, fear means that you care about your life — that you do have hope for the life ahead of you.

And it’s possible you’re feeling the emotions you pushed to the side during treatment, says Lauren Chatalian, LMSW, a therapist at CancerCare.

“In the treatment phase, an individual is just thinking about survivorship,” she says. On the other side, thoughts of the ordeal you just went through and facing that again can be overwhelming.

Now might be a good time to reach out to a therapist or social worker, especially if you didn’t talk to one while going through treatment. They can help you further normalize and process these feelings.

2. Ask for support

You don’t have to go through this alone. Your loved ones are probably also scared and may fear bringing it up.

“Finding ways to bond against fear together can make it more manageable, rather than having individual battles against fear, which can promote isolation,” says Gutierrez.

But it can feel like an isolating experience, especially if you don’t have any other survivors in your life.

ResearchTrusted Source shows that being part of a breast cancer support group can improve quality of life.

Creating connections with people with similar experiences — either in-person or virtually — can help you feel understood. It may also strengthen your relationships with family and friends by alleviating some of the emotional burden they’re carrying from not knowing how to best support you.

If your loved ones are worrying that you’re overreacting, they should understand that “the survivor is sometimes operating from a lens of trauma,” says psycho-oncologist and breast cancer survivor Dr. Renee Exelbert. “And [you] may therefore see other more minor health issues as indicative of a recurrence.”

Share with them just how normal your fear of recurrence is.

3. Continue being proactive about medical care

It can be tempting to want to bury your head in the sand and never visit another doctor’s office again after a long battle with cancer. But keeping up with your doctor’s appointments, including any medical visits you may have put to the side during treatment, is important.

As you likely already know, early detection is key.

Reach out to your doctor if you’re experiencing any of your original symptoms, or any new symptoms, including pain or physical problems that interfere with your quality of life.

Visiting your doctor after surviving cancer treatment can bring back a flood of memories you may not be prepared for, says Susan Ash-Lee, LCSW, vice president of clinical services at Cancer Support Community.

Writing your questions in advance and bringing a family member or friend with you can be helpful.

4. Regain a sense of control over your body

Cancer can make you feel like your body is betraying you or like it’s not your own.

“An excellent way to regain a sense of control is through diet and exercise,” says Exelbert. “This allows the individual to be an active agent of change, and in command of choices that can positively impact their health.”

Whether you had a mastectomy or not, your body is different now than it was before cancer, and activities that strengthen the mind-body connection, like yoga, can help you feel more grounded, Ash-Lee says. (Of course, always be sure to clear any physical activity with your doctor before beginning a new exercise program!)

Taking time to be mindful can also help you tune in to your bodily sensations, feeling like your body is your own again.

“Mindfulness is simply paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment,” Ash-Lee says. “Being mindful can improve our concentration, enhance our relationships, and help decrease our stress.”

5. Focus on enjoying your life

Sometimes, after treatment, you may be feeling stuck, like you don’t remember what life was like before diagnosis.

“Cancer was able to guide so much of your life during treatment; now that it is out of your body, we don’t want to continue to give it the power to guide you even though it’s gone,” says Gutierrez. “That’s not the life you fought for.”

You get to celebrate now! Facing cancer is one of the hardest things you will ever have to go through — and you survived.

What’s on your bucket list? Now’s the time, if you have the energy, to do all the things you always said you’d do someday.

Take your dream trip, pick up a new hobby, or just schedule time to catch up with the loved ones you didn’t get to see while you were going through treatment.

Take time to appreciate the little things in life.

1 Year Anniversary of My Breast Cancer Surgery

Mood: Thoughtful 😏

April 23rd was a bittersweet day for me. A year ago on that day, I had my first surgery to remove my breast cancer. 💕 I was so scared to undergo my first surgery. I had never been through surgery before and it was terrifying to think about a surgeon cutting into my breast and removing cancer. My surgeon reassured me that everything would be OK and that if he wasn’t worried, I shouldn’t be worried either. From that day forward I knew that I was in the best hands possible and that he was saving my life from an aggressive and terrible form of breast cancer.

Today it is overwhelming when I think back and remember everything that has happened from the beginning of January 2019 to present day. It is crazy to realize that on April 28th of this year I had my 4th surgery, my 2nd reconstruction surgery; when until I was diagnosed with breast cancer I had never had major surgery before.

I have changed a lot in the past 16 months. They say that you can’t go through a cancer journey without changing both inside and out, and that you will never be the same again. I used to fight that statement early on saying that it would not happen to me, that I was stronger than that. But I realize now that it is very true, I will not be the same again so I am working on doing what I need to do to be happy with myself both inside and out. I have done a lot of research and I am taking specific vitamins that not only help block cancer from developing and growing but that are also beneficial for my immune system, bones and heart. I am also working on trying to undo some of the damage that the chemo treatments did to my skin. I feel like I have aged quite a bit in my face and it really bothers me. I am definitely making some progress now that I have been working on it for quite a few months so I am happy about that.

I look at life very differently now. So many things that used to upset me or make me mad seem trivial and I can get easily irritated when people complain about those trivial things. It is not worth the stress to get all worked up about things that we can’t change or have no control over. I am not saying that I don’t ever complain, just that I try my best to look at disappointments with a different view after living through fighting cancer. Life is not easy and it doesn’t always go the way we want it to but we make adjustments and move on…I know it isn’t always easy to do so, but it’s best for us and those around us.