A year in my life, from the day I was diagnosed and for the full year after. Walk with me.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Day 69 Unavoidable Setbacks

I want a beer.  A cold sweaty cocktail would be nice as well.  I could sit, as I used to, on the patio with my husband talking smack about our teenage children.  After a hard day at work we would sip and swat mosquito's while I outlined my plan to sell them both for parts to finance our retirement in Belize.

Sadly, my therapeutic cocktail hours are over since alcohol encourages cancer cells to multiply.  Protein is also on restriction with green vegetable and fruit juices taking a primary role in my diet.  These are the negotiations I am having with my traitorous body:  I stop having fun, you stay healthy and stop making mutant cells.  Fair is fair.

Unfortunately my body is not ready to arbitrate and I have developed infections in both frankenboobies; cellulitis in one and an open hole in the other.  Tomorrow I go back to the doctor with my husband and a packed bag, ready to be admitted.  It might be necessary to install a drain or two, or we might have to remove the expanders all together.  My hope is that he will debride and pack the draining hole and keep me on antibiotics since the cellulitis appears a little better and release us in time for a delicious dinner at P.F. Chang's but I know the chances of that are small.

I hate hospitals and regard them as flesh eating bacteria infused torture chambers. I am not far from wrong.  The idea of spending more time there is freaking me out.  The spectre of medical malfunction is popping out of the closet in my mind, MRSA is the monster under my bed.

Life is a tricky bastard and my body is its minion.  Make me a Margarita and keep them coming.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Day 65 Fog

The drugs are messing with my head.  I have spent whole days just sitting and watching vapid daytime television programs with no sense of how much time has really gone by, wasted.  It's difficult to string thoughts together and my words get jumbled up and jambed like logs on a river.  It's no longer strictly necessary for me to be on pain meds, so I have dropped them when not necessary.  I have had to add in an antibiotic due to cellulitis in my left frankenboob and a new deadhesion in my right.  I still take the laxative made necessary by the pain meds along with a stool softener and magnesium because things are not rolling quite the way they should be.  I take meds for the swelling which is still a problem, and a muscle relaxer because that's the only way my expanders are bearable.

These drugs have made my mind foggy and dull and I can't wait to be rid of all of them.  I want to drive my car to the barn, say hi to my friends and spend time forking up horse poo and untangling tails.  I want to visit my horse and hear her nicker hello.  I want to wrap my arms around her neck and breathe in her sweaty smells.  I am far from riding, but a visit would be enough for now.  My barrier is the fog and my weak, unsteady constitution.

I have been told that things get better from here, and I am looking forward to that more than I can express.  In the future I will appreciate all of my days in the sun.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Day 61 Popping

My body looks like I caught shrapnel in battle and the medics have made hasty field dressings out of maxi pads taped to my chest.  I laugh at the reflection in the mirror and my husband/medic looks up with a piece of tape dangling from his teeth anxious to see if this is a precursor to more sobbing.

We have been doing battle with the swelling in the site surrounding the expanders from hell.  When my last drains were pulled the serous output in each was 25ccs in a 12 hour period.  That was high in my opinion, Nurse Ratchet once told me I wouldn't lose my drains until output was 20ccs in a 24 hour period.  My current output was borderline in my Doctor's opinion, but we were going to allow that swelling to create more expansion before it petered out.  A classic Two-Birds-With-One-Stone gameplan.  I did mention my nurse acquired knowledge, and was quickly told the number was 30ccs not 20 and that he felt OK about this.  What could I say?  Nothing could be worse than those drains anyway.

I was wrong about that.  The swelling around the expanders went on and on.  I was in terrible pain, my frankenboobies were distended, purple and hot to the touch.  I immediately went back on drugs and straight to my recliner.

Two days after having my drains pulled I was changing clothes and was shocked to find one half of my camisole wet with warm pink fluid.  I pulled the clinging fabric from my breast to find that I was draining from my recently pulled drain site and a small part of my mastectomy site which had become unstuck.  My right frankenboobie had popped.

I called the doctor and he reassured me that this sometimes happens and many women use maxipads to absorb the flow.  "Better out than in" he says, "keep taking your anti inflammatories and I'll see you Wednesday."  two days later I was on my 10th maxipad and more comfortable due to the drainage when my left frankenboobie erupted through it's second drainage site. 

As my husband expertly stops up my leakage with sanitary napkins affixed to my chest with trainer's tape.  I want to say to him:  "Don't look at me, I'm too ugly."  I firmly believe that once you see something, you can't unsee it.  That's why I don't watch horror movies, I don't want those images flavoring my thoughts.  And here I am, mutilated, leaking, with maxipads taped all over my chest and I laugh "did you ever think we would be doing THIS?"  I ask.  "Never" he replied with tired eyes and a sweet smile "not in a million years."  What I'm really asking is: are these images going to make us stronger, or eventually pull us apart?  We are both in unfamiliar territory here.  Will we survive this new environment?  I am changing, you are changing, our roles are changing what will "We" be when this ride comes to a full and complete stop?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Day 59 Howling

I have an issue with my plastic surgeon.  He made it sound like expanders followed by a permanent silicone implant would be a piece of cake.  We would gradually, conservatively add fluid and the result would be two hard lumps making space for the piece de resistance: beautiful, new boobies.

If I had it to do over again I would have used my own tissue. I have ended every day in tears this last week because I can do very little with my arms that doesn't cause my pectoralis muscles to spasm over these hard, saline filled, nodules-from-hell. My chest wall feels like fire. Every day of this week has found me stoned and flat on my back.  Forget the risk of tissue necrosis, longer recovery and long surgical day, at least I wouldn't be looking at an entire summer strung out on Loritab and Flexoril.

I am two days out from my last expansion and having my remaining drains pulled.  These drains were located nearest to the chest wall and were "borderline" in their collection of salmon colored serous fluid.  The doctor tells me that the remaining fluid collecting around the expanders should be a good thing as it would help with my gradual expansion.  He then filled my numb breasts with 50 ccs of saline and left the nurse to yank my drains.

I completely separated from my body as my nurse clipped the suture that held the drain to the inflamed site and then yanked.  I heard a howl, but didn't register that it came from me until the grey cleared and I could again see the ceiling of the exam room.  I had a better hold on reality for the next one, but I am not sure that's a good thing.  Afterwards, I thanked the nurse through my tears because not to do so would be rude and, after all, my drains were now out and that is a wonderful thing.  My husband says I went from spider to insect to human, never thought of it that way but it is a wonderful thing to FEEL human again.

By the time we arrived back home the pressure in my chest was agony and I went straight for the meds and another lovely afternoon on my back trying not to move or breathe.  I have 250ccs in right now with 150 to go.  One of my frankenboobies is bruised and purple due to the Expander vs. Muscle cage match that is currently being waged on my chest wall.

Today is a better day.  I am two weeks out from surgery now, and I am told that I am doing great.  This morning my husband picked me up so that I could attend my son's graduation from middle school.  I saw him cross the stage and take his certificate and it occured to me that my time with him and his sister is so finite and precious.  I hate this process all the more for looting my time with them.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Day 49 Road Trip

I took my post op trip to Birmingham yesterday to meet with my doctors.  Sadly, I was really excited about going.  You see, when you are recovering and confined to your room or your home nothing really happens to you.  You are insulated from the worlds activities and are slowly written out of life.  No longer in the flux and flow of living, you exist only to heal.

My children come home and tell me a little about their day.  I ask leading questions to get the small details out of them.  They are patient with me and try not to show their irritation with my detective work, but it's clear that they have things to do and are itching to get away.  My darling husband arrives after that and fills me in on happenings at work.  I have nothing to tell him that doesn't concern my meds, how I feel, or my level of pain.  I am not fun to talk to.

I woke up at 5:00 a.m. eager to load up and get the hell out of Dodge, but travelling is not a spontaneous thing.  I need my arm pillows, my drains emptied and stripped, my drain log updated and put in my travel file, my meds need to be placed in a travel case so I don't miss a dose, I need to dress in real clothing which is an ordeal and put on some makeup which I have to do like a Tyrannisaurus Rex because I can't lift my arms above my shoulders.  Forget about my hair, blowdrying is out of the question so I have to go with the poodle look.  I am on narcotics so none of this is easy and my lack of short term memory causes me to endlessly question my husband about our preparations.  Kindle, reading glasses, check book, insurance card, ID, notepad for questions and note taking.  It is nearly 7:00 by the time we prop me up in the passenger seat and embark on our epic journey.

We forgot to eat breakfast but after a drive thru at Chik fil a we were back on the road, arriving just in time for our first appointment.

All good news.  I am recovering at a fast rate, my margins were clean, and my lymph nodes empty.  I had undetected fibrocystic breast disease in my healthy breast, and more locations of invasive cancer in my other breast than was detected through the imaging process.  Happily those locations were small and didn't add much  to my 2 cm initial measurement.  My breast surgeon is sending my carcinoma to California for oncotyping, after which I will acquire my own personal ONCOLOGIST!  I can't wait.

My reconstructive surgeon took out two of my four drains which felt like my heart was being ripped out of my armpit.  My Tegaderm (sp?) dressing was removed and I saw and felt the uncovered sutures and freaked out.  I made him retape over the sutures.  Seeing them is unexpectedly traumatic to me and so is the fact that I have absolutely no feeling in my breasts, they are a blank spot in my body.  I lost it.

We came home and I went to bed.  I want to wake up refreshed and ready for my new reality.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Day 42 I Am Healed

A nurse came through the curtain with a clinking bag of sterile supplies and asked me the same question everyone has asked me since I arrived: " How are you?"  I answered the way most people want me to: "I'm fine."  I wiped the wetness off of my cheeks and put on my "brave" face.  Usually that's enough to make most people disappear back to the other side of the curtain, but not this woman.  "You cry if you want to, feel down if you that's how you feel.  You can't stop those feelings, just let them out.  You are going to be OK.  I know because I've been there myself.  Then she asked me:  "Are you a believer?"  I answered "Yes, I believe in G.d." She wasted no time in gathering me up tightly in her arms and she started praying over me.  She prayed for me, she prayed for my health, she prayed for my husband and asked the Lord to give him strength.  She petitioned G.d with a strong almost ferocious voice as she made her belief manifest, and then she asked me to state what G.d has already done for me, she asked for a statement of faith.  I answered "I am healed."  "And so it is." says she.  Those strong loving arms loosened,  she stood up and left.  I was weeping and my husband was crying, but they were tears of relief.  I had staked my claim on a full recovery, and I was no longer afraid. 

Very soon after that I got my shot of Versed and began my trip to the OR, I remember nothing for the next 5 hours.

I woke in searing pain.  "Wake up now, you are in the recovery room, the surgery is over."  I couldn't open my eyes for the life of me.  The nurses were talking about people they don't like, where they had dinner last night, talking to each other like two High School girls, incessantly and with complete absorption in each other.  I felt like someone who didn't belong in their clique.  I took a difficult breath and said through my raw throat: "pain."  My nurse answered back "we'll get you something soon." and went back to her real job, which is to speak to the other nurses about their personal business.  "Pain."  She ignored me, I am guessing that transitioning people out of surgery must be very boring for her, we must be so tiresome with our catheters and requests for pain medication.  Just demanding shapes under warming blankets asking for stuff. 

Eventually I was handed a button I could press every 6 minutes for pain and was rolled to my room.  That button was my best friend.  My mother-in-law told me when  the allotted time had passed and I pushed that button like a cat jumps on a bird.  Morphine is my friend, I forget all about the teenagers in recovery, my world is that button in my right hand.  All my strength and attention is on crawling out of this crater of agony.

Eventually I am the victor.  My pain is managed and all I feel now is relief.  This part is over, I never have to do this again, the margins are clean, we must wait for the sentinel node biopsy to come back next week.  I am optimistic, because I already claimed my healing.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Day 41 Supergirl

I really haven't known what to write over the last few days.  Not that there hasn't been enough to write about, friends, my precious riders, volunteers, family, phone calls, messages, work, my lame horse, my lame back and presurgical preparations; there has been tons to write about, but my brain is too frazzled to hold down a thought.  When I sit down to write I end up staring into space watching my thoughts burn by me like asteroids.  Occasionally one will hit me and leave a dent, but it's never enough to knock me out of my orbit.  The planet I orbit?  Planet Thursday.

Tomorrow I will walk into surgery.  After that Planet Thursday will be a memory and I will be free to think real thoughts and make plans.  I will deal with the pain and rehabilitation, I do that pretty well.  Pain and strength building are old friends of mine and I will greet them with a strong handshake.  We will know how far the cancer has progressed.  This has been the big mystery of my life in these past days, but Thursday will answer that sixty-four-thousand-dollar-question and I will march forward on whichever path cancer designates.

I will turn my head a look back at the shards of Planet Thursday and hurtle towards the earth.  Like Supergirl.

Thanks to everyone for their conveyed strength, prayers and encouragement, I will blog again as soon as possible...my next entry may be a little drug addled though.