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: 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!

The 14 Best Foods for Hair Growth

About ten days after starting my chemotherapy treatments, my hair started to fall out. I had eight inches of my hair cut off before I started my treatments, so my hair was much shorter, but it was still devastating to see handfuls of my hair fall out. My hair started to grow back around one month after my treatments were over. Fifteen months later, my hair is wavy and about six inches long, so it has been a little slow to grow back, and I have a few thin spots, so those spots are not growing as quickly as the rest of my hair. I have been taking Viviscal for the past seven weeks to help promote my hair growth. It is recommended that you take it for at least three to six months, so we will see if my growth improves with more time, as so far, I do not see much of a change. I do eat most of the foods that are listed below, and I am taking vitamins and supplements as well, so I feel like I am doing all I can to help my hair grow back healthy and strong.

Written by Ryan Raman, MS, RD on April 9, 2018

Many people want strong and healthy hair, especially as they grow older.

Interestingly, your hair grows around 0.5 inches (1.25 cm) per month, and 6 inches (15 cm) per year. How fast it grows depends on factors like age, health, genetics and diet.

Although you can’t change factors like age and genetics, diet is one thing you have control over. In fact, consuming a diet lacking the right nutrients can lead to hair loss.

On the other hand, eating a balanced diet with the right nutrients can help promote hair growth, especially if you’re experiencing hair loss due to poor nutrition.

Here are the 14 best foods you can eat to promote hair growth.

1. Eggs

Eggs are a great source of protein and biotin, two nutrients that may promote hair growth.

Eating adequate protein is important for hair growth because hair follicles are made of mostly protein. A lack of protein in the diet has been shown to promote hair loss (1Trusted Source).

Biotin is essential for the production of a hair protein called keratin, which is why biotin supplements are often marketed for hair growth. Research has also shown that consuming more biotin can help improve hair growth in people with a biotin deficiency (2).

However, biotin deficiencies are uncommon if you consume a balanced diet. There is little evidence to show healthy people benefit from consuming more biotin (3Trusted Source).

Eggs are also a great source of zinc, selenium and other hair-healthy nutrients. This makes them one of the best foods to consume for optimal hair health (4).

Summary Eggs are a great source of protein and biotin, which are important for hair health and growth. A deficiency in either of these nutrients has been linked to hair loss.

2. Berries

Berries are loaded with beneficial compounds and vitamins that may promote hair growth.

This includes vitamin C, which has strong antioxidant properties.

Antioxidants can help protect hair follicles against damage from harmful molecules called free radicals. These molecules exist naturally in the body and the environment (5Trusted Source6Trusted Source).

For example, 1 cup (144 grams) of strawberries provides an impressive 141% of your daily vitamin C needs (7).

Also, the body uses vitamin C to produce collagen, a protein that helps strengthen hair to prevent it from becoming brittle and breaking (8Trusted Source9Trusted Source).

What’s more, vitamin C helps the body absorb iron from the diet. Low iron levels may cause anemia, which has been linked to hair loss (10Trusted Source).

Summary Berries are loaded with compounds like antioxidants and vitamins that may promote hair growth. For example, strawberries are rich in vitamin C, which aids collagen production and iron absorption, two factors that may promote hair growth.

3. Spinach

Spinach is a healthy green vegetable that’s loaded with beneficial nutrients like folate, iron, and vitamins A and C, all of which may promote hair growth (11).

Vitamin A helps the skin glands produce sebum. This oily substance helps moisturize the scalp to keep hair healthy (12Trusted Source13Trusted Source).

A cup (30 grams) of spinach provides up to 54% of your daily vitamin A needs (11).

Spinach is also a great plant-based source of iron, which is essential for hair growth. Iron helps red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body to fuel your metabolism and aid growth and repair (14Trusted Source).

What’s more, iron deficiencies have been linked to hair loss (10Trusted Source).

Summary Spinach is loaded with folate, iron, and vitamins A and C, which may promote hair growth. A deficiency in these nutrients may result in hair loss.

4. Fatty Fish

Fatty fish like salmon, herring and mackerel have nutrients that may promote hair growth.

They are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to hair growth.

A study in 120 women found that taking a supplement containing omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as well as antioxidants reduced hair loss and increased hair density (15Trusted Source).

Another study found that taking a fish oil supplement significantly reduced hair loss and increased hair growth in women with thinning hair (16Trusted Source).

However, there are only a handful of studies on omega-3 fatty acids and hair growth. More studies are needed before health experts can make any recommendations.

Fatty fish is also a great source of protein, selenium, vitamin D3 and B vitamins, nutrients that may help promote strong and healthy hair (17).

Purchase salmon online.

Summary Fatty fish like salmon, herring and mackerel are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to improved hair growth and density. However, there are only a few studies in this area, so more are needed.

5. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are a great source of beta-carotene. The body converts this compound into vitamin A, which is linked to good hair health.

A medium sweet potato (about 114 grams) contains enough beta-carotene to provide more than four times your daily vitamin A needs (18).

Research has shown that vitamin A promotes the production of sebum, which helps keep hair healthy.

What’s more, vitamin A could also speed up the rate of hair growth and encourage the growth of thicker hair, all while preventing other hair follicles from regressing (1920).

Summary Sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamin A, which helps aid sebum production. Additionally, it has other factors that may help speed up the rate of hair growth.

6. Avocados

Avocados are delicious, nutritious and a great source of healthy fats.

They are also an excellent source of vitamin E, which may promote hair growth. One medium avocado (about 200 grams) provides 21% of your daily vitamin E needs (21).

Like vitamin C, vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps combat oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals.

In one study, people with hair loss experienced 34.5% more hair growth after taking a vitamin E supplement for eight months (22Trusted Source).

Vitamin E also protects areas of the skin, like the scalp, from oxidative stress and damage. Damaged skin on the scalp can result in poor hair quality and fewer hair follicles (23Trusted Source24Trusted Source).

What’s more, avocados are a great source of essential fatty acids. These fats cannot be produced by the body, but are essential building blocks of your cells. A deficiency in essential fatty acids has been linked to hair loss (25Trusted Source).

Summary Avocados are rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant that may promote hair growth. Additionally, they are a great source of
essential fatty acids, which appear to be crucial for hair growth.

7. Nuts

Nuts are tasty, convenient and contain a variety of nutrients that may promote hair growth.

For example, an ounce (28 grams) of almonds provides an impressive 37% of your daily vitamin E needs (26).

What’s more, they also provide a wide variety of B vitamins, zinc and essential fatty acids. A deficiency in any of these nutrients has been linked to hair loss (9Trusted Source).

Nuts have also been linked to a wide variety of other health benefits besides hair growth, including reduced inflammation and a lower risk of heart disease (27Trusted Source).

This makes nuts an excellent and easy addition to your diet.

Buy almonds online.

Summary Nuts are packed with nutrients like vitamin E, B vitamins, zinc and essential fatty acids, all of which may promote hair growth and are linked to many other health benefits.

8. Seeds

Seeds deliver a massive amount of nutrients with relatively few calories. Many of these nutrients may also promote hair growth. These include vitamin E, zinc and selenium.

An ounce (28 grams) of sunflower seeds provides nearly 50% of your daily vitamin E needs, with a wide variety of hair-healthy B vitamins (28).

What’s more, certain seeds like flaxseeds and chia seeds also provide omega-3 fatty acids.

A 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of flaxseeds provides 6,388 mg of omega-3 fatty acids. That’s more omega-3 fatty acids than half a fillet (178 grams) of salmon (1629).

However, flaxseeds provide a type of omega-3 fatty acid that is not used by the body as efficiently as the omega-3s found in fatty fish. Nonetheless, it’s a great addition to the diet.

In order to get the widest variety of nutrients, it’s best to consume a mixture of seeds.

Shop for sunflowerflax, and chia seeds online.

Summary Like nuts, seeds are rich in vitamin E and other nutrients that may promote hair growth. Some seeds also contain omega-3s, which have been linked to hair growth.

9. Sweet Peppers

Sweet peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C, which may aid hair growth.

In fact, one yellow pepper provides nearly 5.5 times as much vitamin C as an orange (30).

Vitamin C helps promote collagen production, which can help strengthen your hair strands. It’s also a strong antioxidant, which can protect hair strands against oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress occurs when free radicals overwhelm the body’s antioxidant defense system. It has been linked to hair loss and the graying of hair (5Trusted Source6Trusted Source).

What’s more, sweet peppers are also an excellent source of vitamin A.

This vitamin may help speed up hair growth while stimulating the production of sebum, which helps keep hair healthy.

Summary Sweet peppers are a rich source of vitamins A and C, two nutrients that help ensure hair stays healthy and that may aid hair growth.

10. Oysters

Oysters are one of the best food sources of zinc (31).

Zinc is a mineral that helps support the hair growth and repair cycle (32Trusted Source).

A lack of zinc in the diet may promote telogen effluvium, a common but reversible form of hair loss caused by a lack of nutrients in the diet (33Trusted Source).

Studies have shown that taking a zinc supplement can reverse the effects of hair loss caused by a zinc deficiency (34Trusted Source35).

However, taking too much zinc could also promote hair loss. That’s why getting zinc from foods like oysters may be better than taking supplements, since foods provide zinc in small but healthy doses (36Trusted Source).

Summary Oysters are one of the best sources of zinc in the diet. This mineral helps support the hair growth and repair cycle.

11. Shrimp

Shrimp are popular shellfish rich in many nutrients that have the potential to promote hair growth.

For example, shrimp are a great source of protein, B vitamins, zinc, iron and vitamin D. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of shrimp provides 38% of your daily vitamin D needs (37).

Interestingly, studies have linked vitamin D3 deficiency to hair loss (38Trusted Source39Trusted Source40Trusted Source).

Despite being very low in fat, shrimp also provide a small amount of omega-3 fatty acids. Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to improved hair growth (16Trusted Source37).

Summary Shrimp are a great source of protein, B vitamins, zinc, iron and vitamin D, which may aid hair growth. They also provide a small amount of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

12. Beans

Beans are a great plant-based source of protein, which is essential to hair growth.

Like oysters, beans are a good source of zinc, which aids the hair growth and repair cycle. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of black beans provides 7% of your daily zinc needs (32Trusted Source).

They also provide many other hair-healthy nutrients, including iron, biotin and folate (41).

On top of all these benefits, beans are highly versatile and inexpensive, which makes them an easy addition to the diet.

Find a selection of beans online.

Summary Beans are a great source of protein, iron, zinc and biotin, which are all essential for optimal hair health. Together, they may aid hair growth.

13. Soybeans

Studies have shown that compounds in soybeans may promote hair growth. One of these compounds is spermidine, which is abundant in soybeans (42Trusted Source).

For example, a study of 100 healthy people found that a spermidine-based nutritional supplement prolonged a phase of active hair growth called the anagen phase. The longer a hair follicle stays in the anagen phase, the longer it will grow (43Trusted Source).

Test-tube studies have also shown that spermidine promotes human hair growth (44Trusted Source).

However, the research on spermidine and hair growth is fairly new, so more studies are needed before health experts can make recommendations on spermidine intake.

Summary Soybeans are one of the best sources of spermidine, a compound that may prolong the active phase of hair growth.

14. Meat

Meat is a staple in many people’s diet and is rich in nutrients that may aid hair growth.

The protein in meat aids growth and helps repair and strengthen hair follicles. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of cooked sirloin steak provides as much as 29 grams of protein (45).

Red meat, in particular, is rich in a type of iron that’s easy to absorb. This mineral helps the red blood cells deliver oxygen to all cells in the body, including hair follicles (14Trusted Source).

Deficiencies in protein and iron have been linked to hair loss (1Trusted Source10Trusted Source).

Summary Meat is a great source of protein, which is essential for healthy, strong hair. Red meat, in particular, is rich in iron, which may aid hair growth.

The Bottom Line

What you eat can have a huge effect on the health of your hair.

A lack of the right nutrients including vitamins A, C, D and E, zinc, B vitamins, iron, biotin, protein and essential fatty acids may slow down hair growth or even cause hair loss.

Fortunately, correcting a deficiency in any of these nutrients may help treat hair loss and promote the rate of hair growth.

If you think you’re lacking any of these nutrients, try adding some of the above foods to your diet.

Birthday Trip 2020

Mood: Exhausted

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were finally able to get away and take our annual birthday trip. This particular trip had been rescheduled a few times due to my chemo treatments last year, and the resort we wanted to go to, not opening when scheduled due to the pandemic.

It wasn’t easy to travel internationally during the pandemic, but it was well worth it. We had to get a COVID test within ten days of arriving in Jamaica, and within three days of arriving, we had to go online, fill out a form for each of us, and send our COVID results in for approval. So, time was short, especially to get the test results back and sent in. We didn’t hear anything back after a little over a day, and we started to panic, so we called our travel agent to see if she could help. It just so happens that she has a contact at the Jamaica Tourist Board, so she got in touch with her, had us send some information to her via email, and we had our approvals the day before we were scheduled to leave by 6:30 am the next morning. Whew!!

I am not going to go over all of the details of our trip because this isn’t a travel blog; it’s a blog concerning everything related to and revolving around my breast cancer. So, something happened while on our trip, and to say that my reaction shocked me is an understatement.

A few days before we left, I let my husband know that I was not ready for the trip as far as my energy level was concerned. I had been battling fatigue, and I still am to this day, so I was concerned that the trip was going to wear on me far more than it did back when I was healthy. But I needed the break as I had recently been under a lot of stress, and it felt like everything I was dealing with was becoming far too much for me. We all have our breaking point, right? Well I was very much on edge, and I knew that I was headed for a mental breakdown if I didn’t get away to relax and destress. As it turns out, I was right; about halfway through our trip, I was already physically exhausted even though I kept my activity level much lower than I usually do while on vacation. But I powered through because we had some wonderful surprises during our trip that made everything we had to go through to get there, worth it!

So two amazing things happened during our trip! The first was getting to see and spend time with a few employees from the resort we were supposed to go to. Because the original resort didn’t open on time, there are several people from the entertainment department that are traveling around and performing at some of the resorts that are open in Jamaica. We have been friends with these amazingly talented people for years and years, and they are like family to us. We hadn’t been able to see any of them in two years, so I was super excited when I found out that they would be at the resort we were going to. So we had a family reunion of sorts, and we were able to have lunch together quite a few times and find a little bit of time to spend together on the nights they were at the resort to perform.

It was amazing to get to spend with our friends, and it made me so happy! But, at some point during the trip, I don’t remember precisely when, out of nowhere, I had a complete breakdown. Sadness suddenly overcame me, and at first, I didn’t understand why. I was embarrassed because an employee saw me start to cry and walk away from where we were seated, and she followed us out of concern for me. It was very kind of her to check on me, but I was overcome with grief and sadness, not a good moment for me, especially while on vacation in my favorite place in the world. I remember feeling like I did when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I asked, “why did this have to happen to me? why me?” while crying my eyes out. It was painful because I remembered how things were two years ago when I saw my friends. Life was normal two years ago; life was good, or so I thought. The reality is that I already had breast cancer in September 2018, but I didn’t know I had it; there were no signs of it at that time. I eventually calmed down and enjoyed the rest of our trip, but my breakdown was a harsh reminder that it had not been that long since I found the first tumor and started down the long road of fighting cancer.

Our friends & family in Jamaica

The second amazing thing that happened was getting to see two more of our friends from the scuba diving department. My husband is a Master Diver, and a considerable part of our trips involve him diving twice a day, every day. As with our friends from the entertainment department, we have known most of the dive crew at our favorite resort for years, so they are also like family. My husband received a curious message from a friend the day we arrived in Jamaica, and we didn’t understand what he meant until a few days later when he arrived at the resort to dive with my husband! It was an incredible surprise to see our friend and find out that he was staying for the week to dive specifically with my husband. Our friend lives in Ocho Rios, where our favorite resort is located, and that is one and a half hours from where we were. The next day our friend’s boss arrived at the resort and had lunch with us! So we had another friend of ours came to see us, and that was another wonderful surprise! It was great to see my husband so happy and enjoying his week with a dear friend and having a few surprises along the way; it absolutely made his trip!

All in all, we had a wonderful trip, and it was great to get away and relax somewhere besides home. The next time we can travel and see some of the people we love, I will not be surprised if I have the same reaction; in fact, I will be expecting it. I am human, after all, and I have a very different outlook on life after everything I have been through.

Cherish your family and friends, and stop taking people for granted because someday, they might not be there anymore.

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.

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. 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.

I assembled this glossary of some common language used in the breast cancer community in hopes of easing the way for the newly diagnosed, and empowering you to jump in on those online discussions with some general breast cancer terms.

ACT

A common group of chemo drugs including Adriamycin, Cytoxan, and Taxol.

BRCA1 and BRCA2

This is an abbreviation for BReast CAncer gene. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are two genes that have been found to impact the chances of developing breast cancer, but they don’t cause cancer.

Cancerversary

There are many possible cancer anniversaries one might note. Defining those days to celebrate or commemorate is very personal and defined individually. They can trigger mixed emotions of trauma, wins, relief, joy, and fear.

The main canserversaries I observe are my date of diagnosis and date of my DIEP flap recon.

Chemo brain

This is cognitive dysfunction associated with chemo treatment that causes:

  • difficulty concentrating
  • memory lapses
  • inability to multitask
  • trouble remembering names, recalling words, or spelling common words

Chemo brain is real for me. I’m the queen of brain glitches.

Some experience chemo brain for the short term. Others, like me, have lingering chemo brain.

Here’s what else you need to know: hormone therapy, radiation, targeted therapy treatments, post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as depression and anxiety, can also contribute to cognition issues.

Chemo teeth

Dental problems that may occur from chemo treatment. After chemo, I began to have dental problems I had never had before, including chipping teeth, increased cavities, and sensitive teeth.

I now find it’s often necessary to use a straw when drinking beverages as my teeth are sensitive post-chemo.

Co-survivor

Your ride-or-die support person.

DCIS

Ductal carcinoma in situ. Abnormal cells that begin growing along the lining of the milk ducts, but haven’t spread to surrounding breast tissue.

DD

Dose-dense. Chemo that’s administered with less recovery time between rounds than in a standard chemo treatment plan.

De novo

A person says they were “de novo” when their first and only breast cancer diagnosis was stage 4 and they’re living with metastatic disease.

Not all people living with stage 4 are diagnosed de novo. Their first diagnosis could have been early stage 1 to 3 and they later experienced a stage 4 metastatic recurrence.

Dx

Medical abbreviation for diagnosis.

Early stage breast cancer

Breast cancer stage 1–3 that hasn’t metastasized to bones and organs. Early stage breast cancer is typically any breast cancer that’s contained in the breast.

ER/PR

Estrogen receptor/progesterone receptor. Someone might ask what your hormone receptor status is. They’re basically asking if your cancer is ER/PR-positive, or ER/PR-negative.

Exchange surgery

Getting expanders removed and swapped out for breast implants.

Expanders

Deflated balloon-like structures placed under or over the pectoral muscle to make room for breast implants following a mastectomy.

They have a port that will be filled with saline injections over time to slowly fill up and expand tissue.

Explant

Removing breast implants. I explanted my implants and opted for a DIEP flap reconstruction. I have friends that have explanted to go flat.

Fills

Saline injected into your expanders over time to stretch chest tissue. Example: “I went in for fills today, I’m a little sore.”

Flap recon

A type of post-mastectomy reconstruction that involves making a breast mound out of tissue harvested from another part of your body.

Types of flap recon include:

  • Deep inferior epigastric artery perforator (DIEP) — skin, fat, and blood vessels from the abdomen
  • Transverse rectus abdominis muscle (TRAM) — muscle, skin, and fat from the lower abdomen
  • Gluteal artery perforator (GAP) — skin and fat from the buttocks
  • Transverse upper gracilis (TUG) — skin, fat, muscle, and blood vessels from the inner thigh
  • Latissimus dorsi flap reconstruction — skin, fat, muscle, and blood vessels from the upper back

Flat/flattie/uniboob

This is pretty self-explanatory, but what you need to know is there’s a flat community that has been doing advocacy work to normalize bilateral or unilateral flat so newbies know that flat reconstruction is an option on the recon menu.

See @flatclosurenow on Instagram for inspiration and resources.

Foobs

Fake boobs.

HER2

Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 is a protein that can play a role in the development of your breast cancer. Knowing if your HER2 status is negative or positive helps determine treatment plans.

HT

Hormone therapy. These are drugs — such as tamoxifen — that are used to block estrogen in some tissues while aromatase inhibitors lower estrogen levels. These help prevent recurrence or slow progression of cancer to prolong life.

IDC

Invasive ductal carcinoma. Cancer that begins in the milk duct and has spread to other areas of the breast.

ILC

Invasive lobular carcinoma. Cancer that begins in the milk-producing glands of the breast, then spreads to other parts of the breast.

Lymphedema

Lymphatic dysfunction. Swelling in the arms or other parts of the body after lymph nodes are surgically removed or damaged by radiation. It may never develop or it could develop years later.

MBC

Metastatic breast cancer. Cancer that has spread to other parts of the body such as the bones, liver, brain, or lungs. MBC is stage 4 cancer, which is the most serious stage.

Mets

Short for metastatic, metastasized, and metastasis. A person might say, “I have bone mets” or “that person is a member of the mets (stage 4) community.”

Mx

Mastectomy. A breast cancer treatment that involves removing the entire breast.

NED

No evidence of disease.

Ooph

Oophorectomy is the surgical removal of the ovaries. It’s one way some people with ER-positive cancer suppress estrogen in their bodies.

PS

Plastic surgeon.

Rads

Radiation. Radiation therapy is a breast cancer treatment that uses concentrated radiation beams to kill cancer cells.

Recon

Breast reconstruction where breast mounds are made after a mastectomy. They can be made from implants or your own skin and fat tissue.

Red devil

That’d be the A in ACT: Adriamycin. It’s one of the most powerful chemo drugs invented. It’s called the red devil because of its bright red appearance.

Adriamycin causes many of the classic symptoms you may associate with chemo: nausea, vomiting, hair loss, etc.

Scanxiety

The scanxiety is real! This is the general anxiety you might feel going in for any type of scan or waiting on scan results.

Irritability and weird breathing, anyone? That’s how it manifests with me. The good news is, I’ve learned some coping skills over the years.

Survivor

This word is generally understood outside the breast cancer community to describe someone who had stage 1–3 breast cancer and is done with surgeries or active treatment.

Survivorship

This means living with, through, and beyond cancer. It includes people who continue to have treatment over the long term to either reduce the risk of recurrence or to manage chronic disease.

I might say, “I’m 5 years into my survivorship,” and what I mean is I’m 5 years out from my original diagnosis.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy is non-cytotoxic chemotherapy drugs that can target cancer cells, but don’t affect healthy cells.

You may hear targeted therapy in reference to drugs that can be used to treat HER2-positive breast cancers such as:

  • Herceptin
  • Nerlynx
  • Tykerb
  • Perjeta
  • Kadcyla

TCHP

A common chemo treatment course for triple positive breast cancer consisting of Taxotere, carboplatin, Herceptin, and Perjeta.

Thriver

This word is used within the community to describe anyone of any stage who has had a breast cancer diagnosis.

It’s often used to evoke a positive and empowering vibe that we’re bigger than our disease and it doesn’t define us. Within the breast cancer community, people might identify as a survivor or a thriver.

TNBC

Triple-negative breast cancer is a type of breast cancer in which the cells don’t have ER/PR receptors or HER2 receptor traits.

Triple positive

When breast cancer is ER/PR-positive and HER2-positive.


Write your story

Try writing your cancer story basics using this guide. I keep mine saved in my phone so I can easily share my details when asked in online forums.

Here’s mine: {Monica Haro}

“I was Dx at age 42 w/ ER/PR+, HER2-, ILC. I did DD ACT, rads, and I’m on the 10 yr plan w/ HT, and thriving 5 yrs into my survivorship. My cancerversary is date of Dx on Sept. 18, 2014. I’ve had expanders w/ fills, implant exchange, explanted, and had DIEP flap recon. I have chemo brain. I had an ooph at 44 that put me in early menopause. I identify as an ally to the flat community.”

Monica Haro is a Bay Area native, where she’s presently raising her son Christian. She’s the community guide for the breast cancer support app BC Healthline, serves on the board of directors with Bay Area Young Survivors (BAYS), and has shown her breast cancer advocacy art exhibit with El Comalito Collective in Vallejo, California the past 3 years. Coffee, books, music, and art make her happy. Follow her on Instagram or connect with her via email.

Last medically reviewed on July 6, 2020

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