Appointment With My Oncologist & A Big Milestone

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.

The good news is that I have reached my first significant milestone! On May 23rd, one day after our 17th wedding anniversary, I made it to my second anniversary of being cancer-free! I am incredibly grateful that I have made it through the first two years, and I am hopeful that I will continue to stay healthy and cancer-free until my next milestone in another three years, at five years.

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!

Long Break

Hi, I can’t believe that we are already in July and that it has been over three months since I published a post here! In my defense, I can tell you that I have had a lot going on since the middle of April.

In early May, I started looking for a house to move to because with the housing market going crazy, I was sure that the owner of the house we had been renting for the last six years would want to sell. About a week later, my suspicions were confirmed by a phone call from the owner. Finding a house was challenging because the home would be listed online, and not even 24 hours later, there were multiple applications on it. Right before we were due to leave on vacation, we went to see a house, and it was perfect! At first, we didn’t know if we had gotten it, but right before we flew out of town, we received the news that we had been approved and would get the keys on June 1st after we returned from vacation. So, my time was filled with stress from looking for a house and then getting ready to go on vacation, but it was worth it because we have moved into a house that is perfect for us and our vacation was wonderful!

While on vacation, we renewed our wedding vows on our 17th anniversary, and everything was perfect on our special day! Ocho Rios, Jamaica, is one of our favorite places to relax and reconnect with each other, so why not renew our vows while there. We were supposed to renew our vows two years ago, but between my breast cancer diagnosis and treatment in 2019 and Covid causing the world to stop in 2020, we had to post phone our trip and ceremony until this year.

I will update you with everything that has been going on over a few different posts in the coming days, which will include a huge milestone, a follow-up appointment with my surgeon, and how I am doing these days.

I will be back soon! 🙂

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: 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!

How I Learned to Adjust to Post-Cancer Life

Going in line with my last entry, here is an excellent article about adjusting to life post-cancer. It’s so easy for people to think that just because you are done with the surgeries and treatments, that you are back to normal. I get so tired of people asking me if I am done with “everything” and then responding with “so you are all good now” when I respond by saying that yes, I am done with the surgeries and treatments, but I am on medication the next ten years. I generally don’t say anything more as it is clear that the person I am talking to doesn’t even remotely follow what is going on with me. I know that the world doesn’t revolve around me, but it is somewhat insulting when someone I thought was a good friend, has such a conversation with me. I can say, though, that I have had this happen a few times, but they are still my friends, and I love them, so I am still here to talk whenever they want.

This article describes the hell that I am currently dealing with, and have been for months, and in many parts, it is almost as if I had written it myself. As I try to get through the bad days as best as possible, I have had a very positive change, thanks to this article. I have finally been able to get a handle on my issues with not being able to sleep, and I credit two things for that; the first is that I have found an app that works well for me when it comes to relaxing at bedtime, so I can fall asleep quickly before my mind has a chance to race and keep me awake. {the app is called loona}. The second is that now that the neuropathy is mostly gone from my hands, I am making jewelry again, which makes me very happy, so my stress level is much lower on most days. {My website is mmillsdesigns, where you will find my online shop and blog about my small business}.

I want to conclude by saying that it may sound odd to anyone who has not been in the position of having doctors by your side for many, many months, saving your life from cancer; that the routine, even if it involves the terrible experience of chemotherapy treatments or many surgeries, becomes something that you depend on and get used to as time goes by. It’s almost effortless to get emotionally attached to your doctors when you see them regularly, especially in the beginning after being diagnosed. I was going to appointments twice a week for months as the severity of my breast cancer was coming to light. My chemotherapy treatments were every week for four months, and my Radiation treatments were every weekday for five weeks. So when you have been deemed a survivor, for me, it was after my last clear mammogram on August 17th, 2020; there is a sense of relief as you hear the words “no evidence of disease,” but there is also an overwhelming feeling of loss as well because now all of the hustle and bustle centered around saving your life is going to slow down a lot as the doctor’s appointments become less frequent; I currently see my oncologist every three months, and I see my surgeon every six months. As I have said in past posts, the first two years after the end of my treatments is the most critical time in survivorship because the chance of re-occurrence is at its highest. After two years have passed, the chance of re-occurrence will drop slightly, and when I reach five years with no re-occurrence, the chance will substantially drop; so, that is why my doctors are closely monitoring me for the next few years.

After reading my commentary and the article below, I hope that you, my dear readers, will understand a bit more about the complexity of post-cancer life and survivors’ experience.

Medically reviewed by Jenneh Rishe, RN — Written by Jennifer Bringle on December 17, 2020

Moving on and finding some semblance of normalcy is much more difficult than advertised.

I’d just closed my eyes for a nap when the trill of the phone ringing snapped me back to consciousness. Gingerly reaching for the receiver, I answered hesitantly, nervous as to who might be on the other end.

It was my surgeon, calling with the results of my mastectomy pathology.

“The tissue from your breasts was totally clear,” he said with a smile I could literally hear in his voice. “And your lymph nodes were all normal, too. There was no evidence of disease.”

These are the four magical words every cancer patient longs to hear: no evidence of disease.

They’re the goal — the best possible result of months of grueling treatment. They mean you get to live.

Months earlier, I wasn’t sure I’d ever hear those words. After finding a lump in my left breast, I was diagnosed with stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma, along with the BRCA2 gene mutation.

I faced a gauntlet of chemotherapy followed by a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.

There were bumps in the road along the way — an emergency room visit and an allergic reaction to one of my chemo drugs — but I’d finally reached the end.

I could finally relax and get back to my “normal” life.

The first clue that this would be easier said than done came a few weeks later, when I found myself in tears after being released by my surgeon for annual visits instead of the every few weeks I’d been seeing him up to that point.

Driving home that day, wiping away the tears suddenly spilling down my cheeks, I couldn’t figure out why I was so sad. Shouldn’t I be happy?

What I would soon learn is that this is a common occurrence among cancer survivors.

Once treatment ends and we get the all clear, the world expects us to move on, find our “new normal,” and become those smiling survivors we see in marketing campaigns.

The reality is, moving on and finding some semblance of normalcy is much more difficult than advertised.

In the days and months after completing treatment, I dealt with an array of unexpected emotions.

Sadness at the end of a comfortable routine with my doctors, whom I’d become very attached to during the months they stood alongside me, trying to save my life.

Fear that every little pain or cough could be a sign of new cancer or cancer that spread.

And grief over all I’d lost — my breasts, my hair, and trust in my own body.

As time wore on, I realized instead of becoming happier and less afraid, my anxiety was reaching new levels.

Fearful — often irrational — thoughts about cancer recurring or metastasizing began to disrupt my daily life.

Instead of paying attention to my son and husband, I was often distracted, Googling symptoms on my phone.

Even happy moments like birthdays and vacations were marred by my irrational fears that a headache was a brain tumor, or my backache was more than simply a pulled muscle.

I knew I had to do something to get my anxiety under control.

Though I’d resisted asking for help, pridefully insisting I could handle it myself, I realized the time had come to seek professional assistance.

I scheduled a therapy appointment with a counselor specializing in the needs of cancer patients and survivors.

Even though she couldn’t personally understand what I was going through, her training and experience gave her a level of empathy and insight that made talking to her about my anxiety calming and productive.

During those sessions, she taught me another valuable tool to help quell my anxiety: meditation.

Through basic mindfulness techniques like focusing on my breath and learning to acknowledge and then dismiss negative thoughts, I became better able to manage my anxiety on a daily basis.

Using a guided meditation app before bed began to replace my nightly symptom Googling, leading to easier sleep.

While working on my mental health, I also started focusing on improving my physical health.

Cancer treatment left me weaker and more sedentary, so I started incorporating walks into my daily routine to rebuild my strength. Whether it was a quick jaunt on my lunch break or a treadmill workout in the evening, adding vigorous-yet-gentle physical activity helped me feel stronger and more energetic.

I also began paying more attention to what I ate. While I certainly still indulge in my beloved sweets, I also try to eat more fruits and vegetables daily.

These manageable changes to my diet and exercise may not prevent my cancer from returning, but they will help me build a body that’s strong enough to endure treatment again.

While all these new things certainly helped me adjust to life after cancer, I knew I needed something else to help manage my anxiety. After talking with my doctor, I made the decision to give a mild antidepressant a try.

I’d been resistant to adding another medication to my daily regimen, but I also reminded myself that I didn’t question taking a pill that might prevent my cancer from returning. So why was I so reluctant to take something that could help me with the anxiety that had taken over my life?

For those of us who’ve survived cancer, there’s a great deal of pressure to live up to the persona of strength that gets bestowed upon us during treatment.

We’re treated as though we’re almost super-human — the ones who beat death.

But the truth is, that fortitude is often a facade, masking the fear and pain that cancer survivors live with after treatment ends.

The process of working through those emotions to achieve a sense of normalcy in our lives is an ongoing, personal journey.

While what worked for me might not work for everyone, finding my own formula has allowed me to regain something I thought I’d lost after cancer — happiness.