Friday, September 27, 2013


I’m feeling really blessed right now.  With the exception of two days of feeling nauseated (kind of like a really bad hangover), and the trauma of losing a sink full of hair every time I brush it, it’s been a good week.  Anyone would think that I’d be bald by now if they saw the bathroom sink and drain every day.  Fortunately, I have a lot of hair and it’s not noticeable yet.
I got my hair cut in a chin length bob this week.  I’m thinking that the shorter I have it, the less I have to brush it.  I'm guessing that if there is less weight pulling on it, the longer I may get to keep it.  Wishful thinking, perhaps.  My head/hair feels really strange this week.  Women: imagine you’ve been wearing a barrette in your hair all day (actually, all week).  You then remove it and your hair remains in the same place as if the barrette is still there. You run your hands through your hair and it kind of hurts (strong word, but I think some of you might get it).  In addition to that, you’ve been wearing a hat all day and you finally take it off and want to scratch your head.  (Men will probably get that part).  It feels like that all the time.

Denial?  Eh. Not really.  I’m prepared (they say you can never be prepared) for the 95% chance (Yes. That’s the statistic) that I will lose my hair.  I have bought two wigs. One long and one in a chin length bob.  I’ve also bought some pretty scarves, hats, and accessories.  I finally got online to shop (  It was like having to search for the perfect pair of orange and brown polyester plaid pants or the perfect sized Depends.  Nevertheless, I found a few things I might wear.

Buddy is finally walking again and eating (only hamburger that I cook for him).  Jeff says he has me trained.  No doubt about it.  I’m just so happy that he’s feeling better. 

I’m getting a little more sleep, but it’s impossible to sleep through the night when I have to drink 64 oz of liquid a day.  It’s important to stay hydrated while on chemotherapy, the nurse said in chemo class.  If I don’t, I can count on a trip to the ER for IV fluids.  There were a couple days that I only drank about 4 or 5 glasses and I felt terrible.  I was weak, felt dizzy…well…toxic.  I drank more water and began to feel better.  The night sweats and hot flashes have me up at least twice a night changing clothes.  The oncologist said that chemo should put me into early menopause.  Poor Jeff.  I’m hoping that Dr. Moss can prescribe an elephant tranquilizer for me with my next infusion on Thursday.  I never thought I’d say those words but pain and sleep deprivation make people say and do desperate things.

Now, for the perfect end to my week…..Liz drove from Lexington to Prestonsburg yesterday and spent the day CLEANING MY HOUSE!!!  I just couldn’t believe it!  You see, I have this new concept now.   I now have an energy bank account. In the old days, before surgery and chemo, I overdrew my energy account on a daily basis.  Now, I simply can’t do it.  I will literally collapse when I get tired.  So, needless to say, cleaning the entire house in one or two days would be impossible for me these days. 

She arrived with a tote bag of goodies. First of which is this unbelievably soft robe that she had hanging on the back of the door in her guest room in her home.  Yes. You read that correctly.  She has guest robes…as if her company is at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel!  Whenever I go to her house, I grab that soft white robe, night or day, and snuggle in it.   Jeff says it’s made of angel feathers and I have to agree.  She brought the robe so I could snuggle in it every day.  She also brought me some warm fuzzy socks and some clothes to throw away later. Let me explain.

I have this really strange ability to remember what I wore during certain events, especially if they might have been a special or even traumatic event.  For example, I used to have this dress that buttoned down the front.  Once, two of those buttons came unbuttoned at a very inopportune moment.  I was so embarrassed about it, that I could never wear the dress again.  I actually threw the dress in the garbage! So, I told Liz that during my chemo infusions, I planned on wearing clothes that were old or that I hated because I planned on throwing them away afterward.  Crazy. I know. 
She wouldn’t let me help clean.  Most of the time, I was sitting at the kitchen table cutting up every known fruit and vegetable in the produce department.  I was eager to introduce Liz to my juicer, and she was a cleaning maniac.  She was like the Tasmanian Devil with Pledge in one hand and a broom in the other!  She cleaned. I cut fruit and vegetables, and purged stacks of papers, mail, and magazines while we talked the entire time.  When she left 28 hours later, the house was immaculate.  What an incredibly generous gift!   Yes. I’m blessed.  :)

Saturday, September 21, 2013


I guess it’s pretty safe to say that the week following chemo, I’m incapable of forming complete sentences-verbally and in writing.  The entire week has been a blur to me. 

My sister-in-law Marthan came by Monday night to bring us “a mess”, as they say here in Appalachia, of her famously fabulous green beans, bread and butter pickles, strawberry rhubarb jam, and some home grown tomatoes.  Even with the strange metallic taste that chemo leaves in your mouth, they tasted delicious!  Food is always the perfect gift.  It says, “I picked/cleaned/stringed those vegetables and cooked them with love for you so you can spend your time getting well.”  Simply perfect.  We ate half the pot before she left!

Steroids (to prevent allergic reactions to the chemo) were pumped through my veins before the chemo infusion.  Unfortunately, a common side effect is insomnia.  I also had to take more of them orally the day before and after the infusion.  I can only remember having to take steroids (Prednisone) once in my life when I got stung by a jellyfish in Kiawah, SC.  The only side effect I remember was gaining nine pounds in four days.   

I remember sitting comfortably in the beach chair reading my book.  Jeff, Lauren, Jesse, and Jordan were having a great time playing in the ocean.  I prefer to watch the waves from dry land.  I haven’t been the same since I saw Jaws when I was around eleven.  Even while watching from the safety of dry sand, I will always see imaginary shark fins circling my loved ones.  But on that day, I saw all four of them waving their arms, “C’mon in, the water feels great!”  After a lot of coaxing, they talked me into joining them where the water was up to my shoulders.  After about 15 minutes, I felt a strange electrical jolt on the top of my foot.  “Oh my God!  Get me out here!”  Everyone follows me out, surely convinced that I would have a something a little more serious than red welts on the top of my foot.  It felt like someone had poured gasoline on my foot and lit a match.  It was then that I remembered an episode of Friends.  The group was at the beach and either Monica or Rachel had gotten stung by a jellyfish and Joey pee’d on her leg for relief of the pain.  That’s all I remembered.   “Jeff, pee on my foot. Now!”  He looked at me incredulously. “Huh? What?!  I don’t have to go!”  Lauren eagerly stepped up to the plate, as if volunteering to make chocolate pies for the homeless.  At that time, I allowed my 21 year-old daughter to squat over my foot and urinate on the welts.  “What’s it feel like? Any better?”  someone in the group asked.  “Nope.  Feels about the same.  Like it’s on fire.”  I went to the pharmacy on the island in Kiawah.  The pharmacist took one look at my foot and said, “It looks like a Portuguese Man-O-War sting to me. What have you tried for relief?”  My face turned as red as my foot, I’m pretty sure. “My daughter pee’d on it.” He howled with laughter. “Friends episode, huh? It’s a myth.”  He suggested vinegar, which only gave minutes at a time of relief.  After a trip to the ER, I realized that I’m very allergic to jellyfish stings and this would require steroids. 

I don’t remember feeling “wired” or having acute insomnia that week, but I do know that I never had to call the doctor begging for a prescription for sleeping pills like I did last week.
So back to my week last week….

The doctor on call prescribed a low dose of Ambien.   I’m in constant amazement at the decisions I’ve made since D-day.   It’s as if everything I’ve learned…my entire belief system…has been turned upside down because of fear surrounding the Big C.  I feel like I “caved” and sold my soul to the devil.   
Tuesday afternoon, I was worn out from, well, just breathing.  I dozed off and had the most vivid and realistic dream of my life. I won’t go into the scary details, but let’s just say I woke up screaming and my chest felt like it was being squeezed by a vice.  I was relieved to be alive, but terrified that I might be having a heart attack.  I was literally paralyzed with fear and couldn’t pick up my phone that was only three feet from me.  About an hour later, Jeff came home to his train wreck of a wife.  He called the “after hours” oncologist on call who recommended going to the ER.  I began to think that the chest pains were actually a panic attack (another first for me) and decided against a trip to Highlands Regional Hospital.  I later talked to Dr. Moss, who suggested I quit taking the Ambien.  Apparently, for some unlucky folks, it can cause vivid nightmares.  She also mentioned that the worst of the Neulasta side effects happen on day 5 (Bingo!).  Remember, Neulasta is a medication used to help stimulate the white blood cell count in your bone marrow.  Dr. Moss said that there is a lot of bone marrow in your sternum and the Neulasta could have been the reason for my chest pain.  Apparently, Ambien + lack of sleep + Neulasta + chemo + negative thoughts = a very bad combination for me.

She suggested substituting the Neulasta shot with an antibiotic next month but I would just need to be very careful to avoid crowds.  No problem.  I have twelve days until the next treatment and I’m already dreading it. 

The icing on the cake began Thursday night when Buddy was up all night vomiting.  Apparently while frolicking on our hillside with a young, energetic troublemaker neighborhood dog, he wandered back home with his butt literally dragging the ground.  He can’t walk on his own and he hasn’t eaten since Thursday morning.  He spent the day Friday at Country Hills Vet getting blood work and hooked up to an IV for fluids.  They sent us home with an anti-inflammatory and anti-nausea medication and a receipt for a $305.50 bill.  We still have to hold his back end up with a towel so he can walk and he still hasn’t eaten.  Maybe he’s having sympathy chemo pains and nausea.  After all, he is a Momma’s boy.

Now, for some good news.  Despite the fact that I still don’t sleep much, I’m feeling a little better each day.  This should continue until my next treatment October 3, when it’s time for round two. The oncologist’s office says that my hair should begin to fall out after I begin the 2nd round.  In Europe, many chemo patients wear “cooling caps” which prevent the toxic drugs from penetrating the hair follicle cells (my very unscientific explanation) and the patients don’t lose their hair.  The FDA hasn’t approved it here.  There seems to be a question about whether the icy cold cap would prevent the chemo from killing any stray cancer cells in the brain.  Makes sense to me. That’s the only reason I haven’t ordered one online, stuck it in a freezer, and worn it under a wig so Dr. Moss wouldn’t know. 

Meanwhile, if any of you are experts with scarves and how to wrap them around a head without looking like a do-rag, I welcome a lesson.  I did buy two wigs, but I’ll probably not wear those unless I leave the house, which seems to be only for doctor appointments and occasional trips to the store or post office. 

Beginning today, I have vowed to start juicing again.  I always feel better when I eat and drink fresh fruit and vegetables, but the idea of the prep and clean up has been overwhelming.  I’ve been in survival mode, drinking Ginger Ale and eating saltine crackers and Basmati rice.  Ugh.  “Survival mode? How does that make sense?”, my mom would be saying now.   My guess is that cleaning up my current toxic waste site body might be my best shot at survival.

So…be expecting to read more from me these next twelve days.  After that, there may be another dry spell.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


This is Ann's husband, Jeff.  I have hijacked her blog for an important post.  I realize that this is unlikely to apply to most all of you who read this, so I apologize now for thrusting this upon you.  But I have to say it somewhere and this is where the most people are likely to see it.  So here we go.  I will put this as graciously, softly, and gently as I can.  We don't want to hear any stories about people who have died, or are dying, of cancer.  This, of course, doesn't apply to our friends and family as we obviously already know about them and love them.  But frankly, the stories we already know are enough baggage to take into this battle.  So enough already of telling us about other people we don't even know.  I'm tired of an exhausted Ann having to take up for you dumbasses.  "They're trying to be helpful," she says.  How the hell could you possibly think that regaling us with random stories of people we don't know dying of cancer could possibly be helpful?  "They had a different kind of cancer," or "they had a different stage of cancer," or "but their cancer metastasized and yours hasn't," or "they had a great attitude" are not reasons for telling us about these people. Duh!  As our kids used to say.

So, be positive, or be positive that I will track you down.

Sorry, but this was as much graciousness as I could muster at this time.  Believe me, the first draft had much harsher words.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Chemo Round 1

Jeff and I spent the night with Lauren and Jesse while we were in town for my first chemo treatment.  Their former office is now a guest room complete with a queen size bed and brand new bedding!  Lauren was sure to remember to set out all the funny photos that always make me laugh, like the one when she was 4 and I was 25 and we both had our eyes crossed.  There were lots of family photos from their wedding last year, a dry erase board with random happy facts, and a flower she hand-painted on canvas...because she know how much I love flowers.  She and Jesse pulled out all the stops and no doubt wiped out their bank accounts.  Of course, Liz and Barry, as well as many other friends and family have offered their homes as well.  But, I’m her Mama and she wanted to take care of me.  
Let me first rewind back to the day when my family went to the infusion room to visit.  My first question was, “Is there a limit to how many people can come back here?”  Kim, the infusion nurse, said that our entire posse/entourage was welcome.

September 12, 2013- My first chemo session
(I never in a million years thought I would have to type “My first chemo session.”   I must be an early bloomer in the stages of grief because I still don’t think I’ve graduated beyond shock.)
The worst part about infusion day was my discussion with Dr. Moss about supplements, coffee enemas, and a special diet.  I brought in the book called, “The Chemotherapy Diet”.  Of course, my plan was to double up on the cancer cells and she’d kill them with her poison and I’d de-toxify with vitamins and herbs.  Jeff ordered all of the vitamins for me, so they’d be waiting for me when I came home.
I was armed with my book (which I know worked very well for at least one other person I know) and about 20 questions.  The look in her eyes told me I had overstepped my bounds. 
#1- Doctors don’t like it when you take up too much of their time.
#2- Doctors don’t like it when you question their knowledge or training.
#3- Doctors don’t like to stray from the “normal”, that is, whatever the pharmaceutical study says that is “normal”.
Although Dr. Moss was very pleasant, and always has been, she admitted to never having heard of complementing the treatment of cancer with the vitamins/herbs in the book.  She did say that she wanted to know what her patients are reading (evidently they’re not reading any of the books I’ve read.)   She said she would look through it at lunch and devise an approved list of vitamins.  She said that most of her patients take only a multi-vitamin and they do very well during the same protocol I’m taking.   Then I said, “Did you ever wonder how much better they could have done if they had taken these herbs/supplements too?”  (Crickets Chirped).   She promised to look at the book, but also told me she doesn’t like surprises, so she errs on the side of caution.  I swear, I don’t MEAN to sound like a smartass, but I know I just came off looking like one.   But this is MY life I’m trying to save too!
I told her that if she thought the antioxidants would negate the chemo, OF COURSE I wouldn’t take them. But if she was on the fence and didn’t care, then I would.  She would let me know, she said.
I was the first one in the infusion room, so I had first dibs on the chair. One side of the room is cold, one is closer to the bathroom, another in front of the food and snacks.  Guess where we picked? Yep. By the snacks.  In addition to Jeff, Lauren, Jordan, Jesse, and Liz, my new friend Lesa arrived with Gigi’s cupcakes.  Soon thereafter, our new “Savannah” friends Brian and Debbie arrived for morale support.  Debbie works for Hospice and was thoughtful enough to remove her work badge before visiting.  (That one made me laugh!) Lastly, my buddy Cinder came with her bucket of sunshine and cheer.    
I was feeling pretty loopy at the time. I introduced my son Jordan to my friend Brian as my husband.  (Lots of laughs).  I actually ate a Gigi’s mini cupcake during the infusion.  Maybe I’ve seen too many terrifying movies about cancer and chemo.  Eh.  Not so bad.  I’ve got this.

The next day, 24 hours after finishing each round, I would have to go to the office for a Neulasta shot.  Neulasta is a medication used to help stimulate the white blood cell count in your bone marrow.  It can cause bone pain.   Dr. Moss returned my book and made a quick mention of limiting visitors to two in the infusion room.   What?!!  But the infusion nurse said that my entourage was welcome.  “It’s for the safety of the nurses and patients.”  I’m sure we could find a better place to sit, one that was out of the way.  No dice. Apparently, my friends, family, and I are responsible for setting another “new” policy.  We must have been having more fun than I thought.  Feeling duped, I was pretty upset that I signed on for $200,000 worth of poison under the pretense that my loved ones could support me (and keep me from bolting).  She also returned a list of approved vitamins, naming about five. Apparently 20 of them would affect the efficacy of chemo. Really?!!
Although I felt frustrated, angry, and betrayed, physically, I felt pretty good.  I hadn’t slept the night before (steroids, anxiety…).   I was just a jittery, sleepy mess, with a terrible headache.   Still much better than I imagined. 
I spoke too soon.  I posted a Facebook message my first day after chemo last week.  It said something like, “Doing better than expected after first round of chemo, although I can count the hours I have slept in three nights on one hand. At least I'm not nauseated! Counting my blessings.... Thanks so much for all the positive thoughts and prayers. They are definitely working so far!”   At that particular time, I must have been pumped to the IV gils with my long list of anti-nausea, anti-inflammatories, and anti-misery drugs.  As much as I despise taking them, I didn’t have any of those symptoms on Friday that I certainly had on Saturday and Sunday.
Not everyone has symptoms from Neulasta, however, if you’ve had previous bone issues or arthritis, you might as well plan on two of the longest nights of your life.  If you’ve been reading my blog, and happened to catch the entry called The Incident, you’ll see why Saturday and Sunday seemed to never end. All weekend long, when I would doze for seconds at a time, I would dream I was falling out of that Jacuzzi over and over again, feeling my shoulder dislocate each time.  I would wake up with my teeth chattering, nightgown drenched and have to change clothes.  On top of everything else, chemo often puts women into early menopause.    My hair hurt, my bones hurt, my teeth even hurt and I had a migraine.  The best description I can give about chemo, for me, is this:  Imagine that you have the worst flu you’ve ever had. Everything aches, even your hair.  You have a migraine headache too, but the Tylenol the doctor suggested doesn’t touch the pain. No other OTC pain medication can be taken or it affects the white blood cell count.  You’re walking in the rain, teeth chattering, bones trembling and trying to walk is nearly impossible.  Then, a train hits you.  My breast was even starting to swell again.  Jeff tried to wrap an Ace Bandage around my chest but I couldn’t stand anything binding me.  The poor man.   I know he must have felt helpless.   I sent him to the store for saltine crackers, Sprite, ginger ale, and chicken noodle soup.   All I could do was cry and tremble uncontrollably.    After slipping into a scary, dark place, I begged Jeff to pray that I would wake up Sunday morning.
I told myself that if I did wake up, I would spend this week searching for a new place for my infusions: a place that would welcome my supporters ……every last one of them.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Warning: Unfunny Post Ahead

Warning: For those of you wanting to laugh, be inspired, or uplifted, please exit now.  It’s not been a good day...or weekend.   My phone has chimed for two days.  The calls, texts, phone calls which I have avoided are in the dozens now.  I just can’t talk to anyone, even those who have walked through my fire and have “grown from the experience”.  For some strange reason, especially those phone calls.
Chemo starts Thursday and I’ll admit that I’m a wreck.  I’m not talking about just being nervous.  I mean night sweats (three changes of clothes in the middle of the night), panic attacks (waking up gasping for air), and uncontrollable shaking and crying for hours and a time.  Although I’m dreading the hair loss, that’s just a part of it.  I’m terrified of the long term effects this will have on my body.  Jeff, always trying to be the positive, supportive one, even gasped when I quoted Dr. Susan Love, author of The Breast Book, touted by the New York Times as the ”bible” for women with breast cancer.  Vanity might not get him, but I knew the loss of brain function would do it. 
It states that “Six months after stopping chemotherapy, 61% showed a decrease in function compared to their baseline and reported greater difficulty in maintaining their ability to work.  The most common problems were paying attention, learning, and speedily processing. At the 18 month follow-up, approximately 50% of the women who had experienced decreases in functions showed improvement whereas 50% remained stable.”  It goes on to say, “I doubt that most oncologists warn women who are considering chemotherapy that they may lose a significant part of their brain function.  For someone who needs the treatment to survive, it’s worth it, but in cases where chemotherapy offers a miniscule survival improvement, it may not be.”

Of course, a logical person would say, “What were the details of this study? What were the ages of the participants?” The list of questions is endless.  But, you see, some people with cancer aren’t always logical.   You’re in the fight of your life and you want to know your opponent.  Sometimes the rumors about your opponent are just that…rumors, or studies skewed by whoever makes their outcome look favorable.  Nevertheless, you want to be prepared.   
Although my family was warned on D-day by the radiologist and nurse practitioner, “Don’t get on the internet and start reading people’s stories.  Breast cancer varies greatly from patient to patient.  You’ll always find someone who has a sister/aunt/cousin/mama that has had breast cancer and they’ll want to share all the gory details...good and bad.”  Did I listen? What do YOU think?  Just recently, I joined a breast cancer survivor group on Facebook.   I realize the need for support groups, whether physical or virtual, however, I’ve never been one to participate in a group.  I understand the importance of sharing your story, validation, “venting”, etc., but that’s why I started by blog.  However, I started thinking that the FB support group would be a great way for me to be invisible and just sit back and learn…what I have to look forward to. 
I had done a little research on Tamoxifen, an estrogen receptor blocker, which I’ve been told by my oncologist, that I should take for ten years once all the other treatment is complete.  Ten years is the new protocol. It used to be five years.  Here’s a link of the side effects from the Mayo Clinic, for starters.     I know the rules.   I get it. They have to list ALL the possible and adverse side effects.  I tried hard not to worry, knowing that:
1.   It would help prevent recurrence.
2.   Most people don’t experience these symptoms.
Well, from this support group, I had learned that many women were experiencing many of these symptoms!  Granted, for all of those women who are commenting, there are surely an army of women who don’t experience such symptoms.  But like I said, some cancer patients don’t think logically.
For those of you who don’t know (before June 28, I had NO idea!), there are dozens of different types/combinations of breast cancer.  Combine that with all the stages and it’s pretty difficult to find someone with the EXACT same type of breast cancer as yours.  Then I saw a post from a woman with the same details/markers/stage, etc. as mine.  She endured chemo, radiation, surgery and one year later it came back as stage IV!!!  Below it were several comments saying something to the effect of, “It happenened to me too. Hang tough. Be strong.  You got this.  Blah blah.”  Oh. My. God.  Some would say (and have said), “Just take this with a grain of salt. You don’t know their diet/lifestyles and whether or not they smoke or have continued to take whatever medications that might have been feeding the tumor (like progesterone and estrogen).”    I immediately deleted the group from my Facebook page.  Too late.  The damage was done.  I read it and I couldn’t  “unread”  it.   My weekend was very dark and nothing anyone said consoled me, not even prayer books or hopeful and positive quotes.  I just cried most of the weekend.
Meanwhile, I read cards, comments, and e-mails telling me to “stay strong”, “be positive”, and  “hang in there”.   First of all, saying “STAY strong” implies that I was strong to begin with.  I don’t know how I ever earned that title.  “Be positive”. Well, I can read all the positive quotes I want about being rich and thin. It won’t make it so.   I’m sure Tony Robbins would disagree.

To add insult to injury, Dr. A.J. called me yesterday.  He said that he had met with all of his colleagues and they had confirmed that I do, in fact,  need radiation.  Apparently, the “extranodal extension” of the lymph node is a game changer.  Radiation affects the tissue and a patient should wait a year after they finish radiation to have reconstructive surgery. Since I planned on having my mastectomy and reconstructive surgery simultaneously, it will obviously change my timeline of putting this behind me.  So, it’s looking like the soonest I can have my mastectomy and reconstructive surgery will be January 2015.
I’m not sure what exactly to expect Thursday.  Chemo side effects vary greatly from person to person.  Apparently, the Neulasta shot (to help build white blood cell count) given to me the day after is pretty awful.    
For those of you who braved reading the entire post, I apologize.  To my loved ones who will be there, I will try my best not to bolt before my appointment.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Stay of Execution

Jeff drove me to Lexington September 5 for my follow-up appointment with Dr. A.J..  Remind me to never schedule a doctor’s appointment for any time except 9:00 (first of the day) or 1:00 (first after lunch).  My appointment time was 11:30.   Jeff dropped me off since Liz was meeting me there.  He’s been trying so hard not to get further behind at work, so he packed up his computer and paperwork and headed for wi-fi.   Liz and I killed some time in the waiting room reading “The Chemotherapy Diet” book, which came highly recommended by my friend Maendi.  More on this diet soon….
After waiting an eternity in my paper napkin vest, Dr. A.J. peeks in the door, almost afraid to ask how I’m doing.  I smile bigger than I have in, well, weeks, and flash my “girls”.  In the process, I accidentally ripped the paper napkin in two.  ”THEY NOW MATCH!!!”  He laughed and commented how much better my “brrrreast” looked.  (How exactly does one write a “rolled r”).   It was still a little bruised and sore but so much better!  I mentioned what a great job he did with the surgery and that it was a shame that he’d be cutting them both off before too long.  Of course, I have the scar under my arm from the lymph node dissection, but the scar to remove the lump is on the outer edge of the areola and you have to look really hard to see it…less than one month after surgery!  Let me also add that I don’t recall ever typing the word “areola” in my life.
Dr. Dreamy Pants, as Liz refers to him, quickly burst my bubble.  “Although they match now, you rrrrrrealize that once the swelling goes down, it will shrrrink.  I rrrremoved a lot of tissue.”  Ok I’ll stop with the r’s.  It’s starting to look like he stutters.  A shriveling boob was really the least of my worries right now.  “When does your oncologist want to start chemotherapy?”  I told him that depended on what he had to tell me today, but the goal was to start in one week (9/12).
As I mentioned in the last blog (I think), my oncologist at St. Joe and the folks at Central Baptist seem to disagree on whether or not I need radiation.  Apparently, my “extranodal extension of tumor” (cancer cells extending beyond the lymph node in one of my two cancerous lymph nodes) makes my oncologist Dr. Moss nervous.  Well, crap.  I thought that was why I was having chemo (those stray cancer cells!). 

  Dr. A.J. said he would discuss my situation in one of those meetings when they review all the patients and their care on Friday (today).  Too bad no one there has a picture of my boob at the eggplant stage to put on a slide show.  I can hear the commentary by Dr. A.J. now:   “Forty-nine year old female presented with Stage IIB Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in the left breast.  Surgery was 8/9 when 64.2 grams of tissue were removed from breast as well as four lymph nodes, two presenting positive for cancer.  One of those with an extranodal extension.  She is HER 2 negative and estrogen and progesterone positive. Patient had a severe hematoma as you’ll see in the slide. (EVERYONE GASPS). This was resolved during emergency surgery 8/29.  Patient is a lovely, funny, resilient lady who usually has an entourage that accompanies her to her appointments and surgeries.  She’s already having chemo, a mastectomy, and reconstructive surgery.  I believe that radiation is unnecessary.”  The other surgeons, oncologists, and radiation oncologists nod in agreement.  Sigh.  Let’s hope.

He said that he would let me know his colleagues’ opinions on Monday and saw no reason why I couldn’t start chemo next week.  I was happy that I can finally get this ball rolling, but terrified of what was coming. I guess I’ve just been waiting for a “stay of execution”.  The governor would make that phone call to the warden and say, “You’ve done your time. No chemo, radiation, or further surgery is necessary.”  I guess I watch too many movies.

One size fits no one!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Emergency Surgery

I walked around with the drain in my armpit for a week.  From what I’ve heard and read, it’s a taste of what’s to come when I have my mastectomy.  Only then, there are FOUR of them!  It was a really bad week.   I was either drugged on Lortabs and sound asleep or just…miserable from the large needle pinching me. I couldn’t wait until Dr. A.J. would remove it Thursday.  There was still quite a bit of swelling, so I was terrified that he would make me endure this misery another week.

Liz, God love her, met Jeff and me at Natural Bridge exit halfway between Prestonsburg and Lexington. Thanks to her, Jeff has been able to miss less work due to some of these routine appointments.  But, then, nothing has been routine, has it?

After thirty minutes in another “one size fits no one” paper vest the next morning, Dr. A.J. walks in wanting a full written report on every ounce dumped from the drain.  (Sorry if you’re reading this over breakfast).  The bandage had to be changed daily, so apparently a layer of skin joined it each time.  My breast/armpit was purple, raw, throbbing, and stinging.  Dr. A.J. was ready to bring out the big gun…or at least it looked like it. It reminded me of a tranquilizer dart I’ve seen in the movies, possibly King Kong.  He first used a small needle and injected Lidocaine (again!!) to numb the area.  Then he inserted the needle/dart surely meant for elephants or apes the size of the Empire State Building.  He maneuvered the huge needle deep inside my entire breast.  I looked at the contents of the syringe. It was practically empty, but my left boob was still looking like it would fit quite nicely into one of Madonna’s cone shaped bras, only three times bigger. 

Dr. A.J. looked at me and said, “When was the last time you’ve eaten?”  I looked at my watch, “Around 7:00 this morning.”  You have blood clots that can’t be aspirated through the needle. “What did you have for breakfast?”  I was trying to remember…”Fresh mango, pineapple, and a gluten free scone.”  (As if he really needed to know that it was gluten-free). “I need to go back in through the incision and clean out all of this.  The clots will eventually dissolve on their own, but it could take weeks.  I know you’re anxious to start chemotherapy.”  I was panicking. Jeff was two hours away. Liz had to pick up Grant at school.   “Are you saying you want to do this now?”  He paused to think,  ”How about 3:00?” My head was spinning and I couldn’t think clearly.  I asked Dr. A.J. if he could have someone call Liz from the waiting room.  Liz said we could make arrangements to have Lauren or Jordan pick up Grant from school.
 I called Jeff and he was speechless…”Whaaaaat? What time?” was all he could say. “Three o’clock.  It’s ok.  It won’t take long. I’ll stay with Liz tonight in case there are complications.”   The next thing I knew, he was calling wanting to know if I needed anything from home.  He said he couldn’t be there before surgery but would definitely be there afterward.  What a guy.  He called the lottery office and asked my friend/co-worker/ dog lover to see if she could take care of my arthritic, diabetic, love sponge golden retriever Buddy for a couple of days.  She loves "Buddy time", she says. God bless her.

I think I’ve got the system down now.   Sign in at the CBH Surgery Center. Don’t pee, because you have to save that for a tiny Dixie cup.  Wait for about 20-30 minutes. Nurse Crystal calls me back, remembers me, hugs me, and asked me to teach her again how to order a Powerball ticket after I pee in the Dixie cup.  I asked her, “Why the urinalysis?” She said, “We have to make sure you’re not pregnant. I rolled my eyes. “Lordy, I could’ve saved you a cup and a test strip.”   She laughed and said, “What brings you back so soon?”  I told her of my lumpectomy complications and brought out my shocking photos.  She and her nurse friends stared at the iPhone with their mouths agape.  One enlarged the photo to make sure it was really me, my boob, or maybe even Photoshopped.   “Bless your heart! You must be in agony!”  Well, he DID remove the drain so agony had been downgraded to discomfort.  I was anxious to feel, well, normal again.  Liz came back, hugged and kissed me and I had to beg her to leave so she could make afterschool arrangements for Grant.

 Another nurse tried to stuff my hair in a blue cafeteria cap.  “You sure have a beautiful head of thick hair.”  My chin quivered and I said, “Thank you but it’ll all be gone next month.”  Her eyes watered, she clasped my hand and said, “I’m sorry, Elizabeth.  I’ll be in the operating room with you and I promise we’ll take very good care of you.”  The look in her eyes told me that she had seen this before, probably a loved one.  
“You can call me Ann.”  
“Why didn’t you say so, silly?”, said the misty-eyed nurse as she wheeled me into the OR.

I woke up to Liz saying, “You still have on your lipstick.”  There were three things I wanted to hear when I woke up from surgery:  “Your boobs are now the same size,”    “Your husband is here,” and “What do you want to eat?”  Thank God, I heard them all that afternoon.  The fact that my lipstick remained was just a bonus.