Follow-up with My Surgeon

On Wednesday, I went to see my surgeon to go over the results of my mammogram and to have him take a look at my breast implants and surgery site from my surgery that was just about four months ago. When he came into the exam room, he said that yes, I have some small cysts in my right breast, but that he is 0% concerned about them. I asked him if the cysts could turn into cancer, and he said no, they wouldn’t as they are benign. I asked him if anything needs to be done about the cysts, and he said that we do not need to do anything concerning them; they will most likely go away with time. He said that he is very pleased with the images from my mammogram and ultrasound and that everything is clear and looks great! {He explained to me when he ordered the mammogram that we had to wait for at least six months after finishing my radiation treatments to do it, or the images would be cloudy, so that is why I had to wait so long.}

Next, he took a look at how I have healed from my last surgery and how my breast implants are settling in. Everything is looking good so far, but my chest has not finished settling into place, meaning that the area under my left breast, in particular, has not dropped down and rounded out, it is still somewhat flat. It takes time for the internal part of the chest to heal and for the implant to get into place, so there is nothing to be alarmed about; my body just needs more time.

We do have to watch for a complication from my breast implants. It is called Capsular Contracture, and it is a breast augmentation complication that develops when internal scar tissue forms a tight or constricting capsule around a breast implant, contracting it until it becomes misshapen and hard. When my surgeon put my breast implants in, he added donor tissue to help prevent this complication from happening, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t happen anyway. He said that if it does happen, I will need to gauge my level of pain, watch for distortion, let him know that I have a problem, and that I am in pain that I can’t bear. He explained that some patients would have a severe case of Capsular Contracture and have very little pain, while others would have a milder case and have horrible pain. He said that if the pain is too much for me, I need to tell him to fix it, meaning I will need to go into surgery and have my implants removed. Whether or not I would need to have a new set of implants put in or have them left out is hard to say; it just depends on the circumstances. Being the excellent surgeon that he is, he told me that this could happen when we were discussing the option of breast implants. I told him that it was worth the risk to me as I was feeling very out of proportion after my first reconstruction surgery. I wanted to feel like me again and not the stranger staring back at me in the mirror.

The reason why we were even discussing this horrible complication on Wednesday was that he pointed out that the implant in my left breast is much firmer than the implant in my right breast during my exam. The firmness is caused by the 25 radiation treatments that were part of the breast cancer treatment performed on my left breast. So, it is already firm, and I need to watch it and check to make sure that I don’t have any harder areas that could indicate a problem is developing.

Unless I notice anything in the meantime, I will not go back to follow-up with him until six months from now. I have fewer appointments with my oncologist and surgeon these days, a real sign that I am healing and adjusting to life after breast cancer. 💕

My First Mammogram in 18 Months

On Monday, I had my first mammogram in 18 months. Once my temperature was checked, I signed the necessary paperwork, and then I went over to the registration area. I noticed while going through the process of registering that the paperwork from my surgeon ordering my mammogram, said to do an ultrasound “if medically necessary.” I prayed that I would not need an ultrasound because I knew that meant that they saw something during the mammogram and would need to take a closer look.

The breast center that I go to, which is in the same building as my surgeon and oncologist, takes terrific care of me. I barely waited for 5 minutes before the nurse came to get me to take me to the back so I could change into a gown. I love the gowns there, they are pre-heated, and so are the blankets! It’s the little things I guess, anything to feel more comfortable when you are waiting to go in to have your breasts smashed in a machine. I was incredibly nervous because I couldn’t help but think about the last time I had a mammogram; when the results said that I had a mass that was “highly suspicious of malignancy.”

When I went back for the mammogram, the first task we needed to take care of was to go over everything I had been through concerning my breast cancer and treatment. It was hard to recount everything from the number of treatments to how many surgeries I have had, what type of surgery it was, and when everything occurred. It was hard to go through the details, not because I couldn’t remember them but because I could, and it was just so much to go through in a short period of time. Even now, when I start thinking about everything that has happened, I get depressed, and sometimes I am brought to tears. I am lucky to be here, and I know that, but that fact doesn’t take away the memories and pain of every blood draw, surgery, and treatment that I have endured.

I didn’t realize how different the process of a mammogram would be with breast implants, so it was a shock to go through what seemed like twice as much imaging. First, I had a regular mammogram, and the standard trays were used with the usual amount of images being taken. But since I have breast implants, I had to have extra imaging done with my implants being pushed up and out of the way. I won’t lie, it was painful to have the edge of the metal platform jam into the scars under my breasts, but it was necessary to be in that position to move my implants out of the way. Once we had finished the mammogram, the tech had me go back to the waiting room while the doctor looked over the images. I waited for a few minutes, and when I saw the tech come back, I was hoping that it was time to leave, but no, the doctor asked for a few more images. So we went back to the mammogram room, and she took two more images, and then sent me back to the waiting room.

I waited for a few more minutes, and then a different and very pregnant tech came to get me. I noticed right away that she was taking me into the ultrasound room, and I immediately got upset. She told me not to worry and that this was normal, but I knew better. She only imaged my right breast, the side where I did not have breast cancer. Once she was finished getting more images, she took me back to the waiting room while the doctor took a look at the ultrasound images. After a few minutes, the mammogram tech came to take me back to the mammogram room for one last mammogram image of my right breast. Now my anxiety is starting to kick into high gear! “What did they find? Do I have cancer in my right breast now? I can’t go through everything again!” My mind was racing, and I wasn’t going to calm down until I knew what was going on. Still, at the same time, I truly appreciated that they were taking their time to make sure that they were able to see and identify what was showing up in the images and give my surgeon and me accurate information.

This time instead of taking me back to the waiting room, the tech had me wait in the mammogram room while the doctor took a look at the last image. She said that I might have to go back to the ultrasound room with the doctor so she could pinpoint the area that was causing concern. Sure enough, I went back into the ultrasound room, and the tech did some measuring and marked an area with a pen for the doctor. The doctor came in and took a few extra images, looked at everything carefully, and then told me that I have some tiny cysts in my right breast, but they are benign, there is no sign of cancer! 😊

Breast Cancer Glossary: 41 Terms You Should Know

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer it was unimaginably overwhelming in so many ways. My head was spinning with questions and fears and like many newly diagnosed patients, I felt like I needed to quickly learn a new language. Little by little I began to understand my diagnosis and what it meant for me as a breast cancer patient. Now, 16 months later, I have come across all of these terms either through my own experiences, discussions with my doctors or by reading the endless sources of information that I have discovered along the way. In the beginning of my journey it would have been so helpful to have all of the information below in one place for me to reference. I hope by sharing this article I am able to help answer some of the questions you might have as a breast cancer patient or a caregiver to a breast cancer patient.

At the bottom of this article, Monica suggests writing your cancer story basics using this guide. I am finding that quite often people will ask me for this information whether it is in a new forum that I have joined or during a conversation I am having with someone new. I have included my cancer story basics here in this blog post and on my “About Me” page.

My Cancer Story Basics: I was Dx at age 51 w/ ER/PR+, HER2-, IDC. I have had ACT, Rads, and I am on a 10 yr plan w/ HT, Anastrozole. My cancerversary is the date of Dx on February 25th, 2019. I have had a partial mastectomy, port-a-cath insertion, reconstruction w/reduction mammoplasty and insertion of breast prosthesis following reconstruction.

The author of this article, Monica Haro, is the community guide for the breast cancer support app BC Healthline. This particular app has been an amazing source of support for me both while I was in the middle of fighting breast cancer and also now that I am learning to live life as a survivor.

Medically reviewed by Krystal Cascetta, MD — Written by Monica Haro on July 6, 2020

Utterly overwhelmed is how I felt when I faced the uncertainty and devastation of my breast cancer diagnosis 5 years ago.

I dove into online communities to connect, observe, research, and be heard. When I did, I was lost on some of the language. There were so many terms, acronyms, and abbreviations to learn.

Some things that now seem obvious to understand weren’t while dealing with a brain processing the new trauma of my cancer diagnosis.

If you’re wondering what in the world a red devil, foob, expander, and ooph is, I’ve got you.

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! 💕

2nd Follow-up Appointment with My Surgeon **WARNING: GRAPHIC SURGERY PHOTOS**

Mood: Good 🙂

On Monday I had my second follow-up appointment with my surgeon to remove the two drains and to take a look at the steri-strips that are still in place from my surgery two weeks ago.

It didn’t really hurt when he pulled the tubing out of my chest from the drains, it was more of a strange sensation than pain. I felt tugging, not a sharp pain at all, but it was uncomfortable even though he told me as he was doing each step to remove them.

Each time I winced he apologized, which was comforting as it reminds me of why I like my surgeon so much, his compassion and caring is undeniable. He put some ointment on the wounds, covered them with gauze, taped them down and told me that I could take the guaze off the following evening. Unlike previous surgeries, there would be no need to continue to bandage those areas which was a relief.

I can shower normally now and as I do the steri-strips will start to lift and fall off. He said to let them peel off on their own and that he would see me again in two weeks to take a look at how I have healed.

With this being my 4th surgery within a little over a year I have learned that every surgery is different. I have learned that there are surgeons, doctors and nurses that really care about their patients and that you can lean on them and trust them. Cancer is scary enough on its own but if you can trust your medical team with your life that is a huge part of facing the journey and coming out on the other side as a survivor.

Side-Effect Friendly Smoothies

Eating the recommended amount of fruit and veggies (8 – 10 servings per day) can be difficult when you aren’t feeling well and your taste buds change due to chemo.  Smoothies are great because the nutrients are blended and ready to be absorbed without a ton of effort from your digestive system.  All you have to do is put all the ingredients in your blender and you’ve got a delicious meal! Here are five easy smoothie recipes from Naturopathic Doctor, Melissa Piercell, that we love.


Green Energy Booster

Raw salad might not be appealing during chemo treatments so this smoothie is great for someone looking for a tastier way to get more greens in their diet. It’s a surefire energy booster because of the concentrated chlorophyll and iron in each leaf. Low appetite? This also makes for a great meal replacement option, thanks to the protein and fat in the nuts and hemp hearts.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of your favourite greens (ie. spinach, kale, swiss chard, etc)
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons hemp hearts
  • 2 tablespoons almond butter
  • Chocolate almond milk (enough to cover ingredients)

Combine the greens, cocoa, cinnamon, hemp hearts, almond butter and chocolate almond butter in a blender. Blend until smooth.


Easy Berry Blast

Berries are high in tissue healing antioxidants and detoxifying fibre. Enjoy this quick and easy smoothie choice for a busy morning.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup of your favourite berries
  • 1 scoop protein powder (such as Vega sweetened with stevia, vanilla or berry flavoured)
  • Almond milk (enough to cover ingredients)

Combine the berries, protein powder and almond milk in a blender. Blend until smooth.


Peaches and Cream

Calcium is important when it comes to bone strength (especially for those who have had chemo). Here is delicious bone-building smoothie that’s perfect for the summer when peaches are in season.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup frozen peaches
  • 1/4 teaspoon organic vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup organic plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • Organic cow’s milk or goat’s milk (enough to cover ingredients)

Combine the peaches, vanilla extract, Greek yogurt, maple syrup and milk in a blender. Blend until smooth.


Chemo Brain Smoothie

If chemo is making you lose your appetite, this is a great meal replacement. High fat is good for cognitive decline and mental fogginess typically reported in those going through chemo. Fat has twice the calories that protein and carbs have, so this smoothie will surely fill you up!

Ingredients:

  • 1 banana
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons of your favourite nut butter
  • 2 tablespoons flax seed
  • Coconut milk (enough to cover ingredients)

Combine the banana, avocado, walnuts, nut butter, flax seeds and coconut milk in a blender. Blend until smooth.


Headache Be Gone

Sadly, cancer treatments can leave us feeling like we’ve been hit by a truck. This smoothie is a great choice for someone experiencing inflammation, headaches, or any type of surgery pain. Pineapple, turmeric, ginger and papaya all have anti-inflammatory properties. This recipe should be considered a snack because it doesn’t have any protein.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup pineapple
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 cup frozen papaya
  • Coconut water (enough to cover ingredients)
  • Honey, as needed

Combine the pineapple, turmeric, ginger, papaya, coconut water and honey in a blender. Blend until smooth.


Melissa Piercell is a Toronto-based Naturopathic Doctor who strives to encourage her patients to take an active role in their health in order to enjoy a balanced lifestyle. She utilizes all of her training tools to provide the best care for her patients, young and old. Melissa has a special interest in motivating her patients to improve their lifestyle, by making changes that are long-term and realistic. She stresses the importance of remaining well nourished and active. Find out more about her practice by visiting her website.

 

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