Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Recovery Phase: A Young Survivor

As much as I would love to have a positive report to give you, I just can't seem to find it in me right now. Let me just start off by saying I have been very fortunate in meeting some really great people through out this journey. Some are complete strangers that have reached out to share their experience with breast cancer. They all have been very helpful, insightful, and supportive as I embark on the next chapter of this journey, being a survivor.

For me, the actual fight was easy. It's life in recovery that is the toughest, and it's not just with healing but everything else that comes with the territory. First things first, the evil "T" word...tamoxifen. I have nothing good to say about this drug. None. I do not like putting anything synthetic in my body, much less one that has crazy side effects. Some of the side effects are: risk of blood clots, stroke, cataracts, bone loss in premenopausal women, mood swings, depression, hot flashes. Sounds like fun, right?! Luckily I am very lucky to to be physically healthy, so I'm not the least bit worried about the blood clots and such. However, I am experiencing the latter part of the list. I was off of it for almost 3 weeks until the oncologist told me start taking it again. I miss those 3 weeks post-surgery when I did not have to take it, as I have been an emotion wreck since being back on this hormone. I had been on it a week before surgery and experienced the same side effects, only it seems like they've gotten worse. When these moments occur, I toy with idea of just not taking it anymore. I don't feel like myself, and I don't like that feeling. I'm not one to lay the blame on stuff like this, but there just is no logical reasoning behind all this except for the hormone. I hate it. My mood swings and hot flashes are unpredictable. I don't sleep well at night, and I've been very forgetful. I. Am. Not. Myself.

Then there are the medical bills. I am very fortunate to have good health insurance, however, I still have co-payments....and they add up very quickly. There just seems like there isn't any end in sight. Again, I count my blessings as I am very grateful for not having to go through chemotherapy or radiation, as I can't even imagine the bills that come with that.

Even though I have been walking and increasing my daily activity slowly, it's not close to where I was before surgery. I'm use to being a very active individual. I miss my kids at work, I miss working out, I miss being normal. All these things make me happy. I feel like I've lost a little bit of my faith in the past 2 weeks. I had been told there is more to the journey than just the fight, but I had the slightest idea at the time. Maybe it was because I was choosing not to see what lie ahead of me, or maybe I thought I was strong enough to endure it. I honestly could not tell you now.

Yesterday, July 21, 2012 marked my 1 month anniversary of being a survivor. And what a recovery it has been.

That's all the energy I have for today. Just thought I would share a different aspect to this journey.


P.S. I appreciate the continued support of my avid followers. If you feel inclined to leave a comment, please do so...just make sure you sign off with your name. :)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Expansion Time

What an uplifting week it has been...literally and figuratively. I enjoyed my weekend, had a good doctor's appointment Monday, and reached a milestone Tuesday and today.

Rock'n it
My range of motion in my arms are getting better with each day. I now have about 90% back in my left arm and about 75% in my right arm. I feel comfortable enough to drive short distances, however turning the steering wheel a certain way is still a little difficult. I ventured out to the movies Friday, rested Saturday, and enjoyed the beach on Sunday. Sun and sand was definitely well needed (even if it was for only an hour), although I was quite exhausted walking back to the car from the beach as it was all uphill. I actually had to stop a couple times to regain myself. The combination of driving and going to the beach was a bit much for the body. Needless to say, I crashed pretty hard once I got home.

Monday I had another follow up with the doctor and everything checked out well! I am about 99% healed superficially, but still have fluid built up around the expanders. I guess they took my second set of drains out a day or two too early. They were able to aspirate most of the fluid from my right side, but not so much from my left side. This did not stop them from expanding me though, which I was quite excited. So, yes, I had my first expansion of 75cc. And, NO, I did not need any muscle relaxers or pain killers as the the tightness feeling was minimal. :) Because they were not able to aspirate much fluid from my left side, I have to go back in on Monday for another check-up. I think they should reserve a room just for me, since I have been there every week since May 14.

I've had a few inquiries curious about the expanders and the process. Rather than me trying to paint a perfect picture, here are a couple images of how the expanders are inserted.

The surgery is performed to expand the muscle so that there is enough breast pocket volume available to create a shapely and proportioned breast. So the expander is empty when first implanted in the muscle. I will go in every 2 weeks now to get injections of saline until I am comfortable with the size. The expander has a metal port where the doctor inserts the needle for the injections. I don't have a great photo of it, but this one will do in order to give you an idea. Because I they have metal on them, I have an identification card stating I have these implanted should I travel by plane anytime soon. Fun times. HA!

You will not defeat me!
Let's see, oh yes, yesterday I finally was able to walk up our 3 flights of stairs (twice) without getting winded! I am super excited about this as my stamina is getting better. My next goal is to walk uphill without getting winded, WHICH I know I will meet in no time. Today I walked 1 mile with the last half mile being up hill, and I was not as winded as I had expected to be. I was definitely pumped when I finished! I can't wait to get back into the CrossFit mix! Baby steps though, gotta walk before I can run.

Lastly, I want to briefly mention a great project my brother put together in order to raise funds for breast cancer research. He is a photographer and put together this calendar featuring classic cars...and girls. ;) The calendar goes through March 2013, so you still have time if you are in need of a calendar and want to support breast cancer research. Here is a sneak peak of Ms. September.

That is all the time I have for today. I hope you all have a wonderful week and even better weekend! Off to nap after that amazing walk....


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Conquering Patience While Defeating Breast Cancer

Oh JOY, I am now back on Tamoxifen. YAY! (sarcasm) I really should count my blessings, since my oncologist told me yesterday I do not need any rounds of radiation. I am declared CANCER FREE (insert happy dance here)!! Of course, I kinda already knew this from my first post-op appointment but needed to hear it from the horses mouth. I owe much thanks and gratitude to my team of surgeons for being Super Heros and clearing the margins on both tumors. So, now what?...

Well I had an appointment with both my surgeon and oncologist yesterday. First of all, I don't see any point in waiting for over an hour to see the doctor for only 5 minutes. Really? I just waited for over an hour and the only important information you have for me is "Start your Tamoxifen again, then I will see you in 3 months." I mean, couldn't it have been easier to just call me with this information?! My oncologist appointments have been this way pretty much every time I have gone. Don't get me wrong, I highly respect and trust my oncologist, but I'm sure he has patients needing more of his time than myself. I am an easy case, but I guess he just wants to be face to face with his patients. That's always a good thing!

My appointment with my surgeon also went well. The superficial layers of skin are almost healed completely, however, I still have a little fluid built up around the two surgery sites. The doc didn't seem too concerned, but she suggested I still limit movements and rest to prevent more build-up. I'm not exactly sure how much more rest I can do when all I do is rest...with limited activity. HA! Last thing I want to do is have any set-backs, so I am actually listening to my doctors. Anyhow, I did not have my first round of injections of saline yesterday. She wants to see if my body will absorb the little amount of fluid by Monday (crossing fingers!).

In the meantime, I am continuing my stretches....slowly. For some reason I have more range of motion in my left arm than I do my right arm. I try to wrap my brain around it, but there is no logical reasoning behind it. The body does what it wants it to do...obviously. I'm proud of myself for being patient and not pushing my body. Go Me! Each week I have done a little more activity to ease my body back into a routine. This week I started taking Kona outside a couple times a day. We live on the 3rd floor of an apartment building, so I am literally out of breath by the time I come back up to the apartment. Baby steps.

**Side note: I'm normally an impatient person (despite the fact I work with children with Autism), but I feel this journey has taught me patience in more ways than one. I've always had patience with the kiddos I work with, but not so much with myself. I can honestly say for once in my life, I have had the upmost patience with myself and "life" over the past 4 months. There are some things that are just out your control. You have to trust and have confidence God knows what he is doing. From the day I was diagnosed and still to this moment, I strongly have believed nothing but positiveness was going to come out of this journey. So far, I have been right.**

I wanted to take a brief moment to mention a great cause that share 2 of my passions: CrossFit and Breast Cancer. Barbells For Boobs is a 501(c)3 non-profit breast cancer organization whose mission is to provide funding through the MAMMOGRAMS IN ACTION ® GRANT PROGRAM for qualified low-income and uninsured women and men who need screening and/or diagnostic procedures in the prevention of breast cancer. This is a wonderful organization that supports a great cause, so please check out the link. My goal is to re-train my body to prepare it for the Amazing Grace Fundraiser come October. The Amazing Grace WOD consists of 30 clean and jerks at 95# (Rx weight) for time. Not sure if I will be able to do that amount of weight by October, but I hope to at least get the movement by then. So be sure to stay tuned. :)

And that's all the time and energy I have for today's blog. I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend! :)


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Life's Lessons: The Recovery Phase

Yep, procrastination has gotten the better of me and my mind elsewhere, thus why I haven't updated my blog in about a week. I am realizing the toughest part of this journey is the recovery phase. I am not talking about just the healing process, but everything else that comes along with the territory of recovering.

I had my second "post-op" appointment Thursday, July 5th and was ecstatic the doctor took out my last two drains! I feel somewhat normal now, although the sites where my drains were inserted are a little sore. I can actually lay on my side now and save my poor back from the stiffness of laying on it all the time. So far, there have been no detours in the healing process so my chest is coming along nicely. Both sides seem to be getting adequate amount of blood supply now. If my plastic surgeon sees fit, I may be getting my first injections of saline this Wednesday. *crossing fingers* I am still limited in movement and am only suppose to lift things weighing 5 pounds or less. I have done a good job at listening to my body and not over-stretching myself. I was told I should be able to start running again & easing back into CrossFit come August. THANK GOODNESS!

From my Family
My mom has been an angel in disguise during my initial recovery, although she flew back to Texas a week ago. Of course I miss our time together, but her help is what I've missed the most. Being thousands of miles away from family has made this journey tough, but I know God has a plan and this is where I am suppose to be. I mean, it will only make me that much stronger.

I feel so blessed to have so many caring people in my life willing to aid in my recovery. While I am not one to ask for help, I do understand and have accepted the fact I need assistance during this time. There have been some frustrating moments during this recovery process (as I mentioned in my last blog). It is very difficult for a person on the outside to understand the needs of person recovering from a bi-lateral mastectomy. I wouldn't expect anyone to fully understand, but I would expect to be listened to and my needs heard.

I took some friendly advice from a response to my last blog (Thanks Mina!). I have made it clear my exact needs to my better half, and I am just at a standpoint right now. Those of you who really know me, know I am not a needy person. There are things I am comfortable with and things I am not comfortable with, and I have made sure to express these things quite clearly. I feel I am being realistic, although I am told I'm not. Sometimes when you have too many people willing to help, it is easy to pawn the responsibility off on someone else. I understand this time may be difficult for him too, but this is the only way a couple grows together. We are  suppose to be each other's responsibility & priority, not that of other people. This path was chosen for me, and the situation is what it is. I feel circumstances like this is a crutial test to any relationship. It is a good opportunity to learn more about ourselves and each other. I have faith we will get through this, but it has been a very tough learning experience thus far. On a more positive note, Trevor has learned the ways of a female's hair. Yes, he has brushed and fixed my hair...and actually did a very good job at it. The more challenging part was washing my hair. I was not able to take a shower for almost 2 weeks, only "bird-baths" to avoid infection in the drains. Looking back, I'm not exactly sure how we managed such a task but we did. Although it took 40 minutes, he did an amazing job! I think this little act of love made me fall-in love with him even more. :)

Words of Wisdom
This is just one other "thing" a breast cancer survivor deals with on this journey. It's not just about the cancer, our bodies, and doctors, but the things we go through with our loved ones and the little things in Life many people take for granted. Aside from this little bump in the road, I am beyond grateful for the people who have taken time out of their daily schedule to help me with either walking Kona, bringing me food, taking me to the movies, shooting me a quick text checking in on me, or just stopping by to say "hi". You guys are awesome and am glad to call you my friend.

I leave you all with a "card" that was mailed to me by my cousin and his family. He lives in Iowa with his wife and 3 precious little girls. It warms my heart when a child makes a "piece of art" on my behalf. I also received a very pretty butterfly bracelet! :) Hugs to all 5 of you!