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“I Am Titanium”

A year ago this week I was contemplating yet another mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy. I found a lump in early April while on vacation, a sore spot that I knew needed to be examined. It’s hard for me to fathom where these days have gone. So much time and energy focused on getting well and feeling better after my surgeries. Tonight, on my way home from running errands, I heard David Guetta’s song, “Titanium” and I was reminded of the strength of being a survivor. “I’m bulletproof, nothing to lose, fire away fire away, ricochet, you take your aim, fire away fire away, you shoot me down, but I won’t fall, I am titanium.” I still have pain on a daily basis, but it gets better with time. The emotional scars still rear their ugly heads and take me down momentarily but I get back up again. I am titanium.

If you are reading this wondering about your own fate and battling breast cancer or watching a loved one go through it, you are titanium. You will get through this. There will be long days, set backs and tears but you will get through this.

It’s been several months since I have posted. I pretty much quit in November after my exchange surgery because I was frustrated by the unknown. I was tired of sharing and was ready to move on. I didn’t feel like telling everyone about my silicone boobs. I didn’t initially like the results but as the months have passed, I have learned to let go of the image of what I once was. Acceptance is not a choice, it is a means of survival. My joy depends on it.  I have decided to move ahead into the next stage of reconstruction and know that with that will come more challenges but none that I can’t handle. I am titanium.

 

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Today is a good day. I am reminded by this fact when I look in the mirror and see that I still have my own hair attached to my head. I can sit without pain and type with two hands and ten fingers. I can see this computer screen and know that my thoughts can be communicated very easily. Despite the surgery six days ago, the drainage bags hanging from my ribs and the constant pressure around my chest, it is a good day.

I need to remind myself that life could be much more difficult. I also know that its okay to cry and wonder if I will ever feel like myself again. On Monday before surgery, I had such high hopes of what this next surgery would bring. I am struggling once again with image issues and wondering why this is so important to me. No one else seems to care about how my chest looks, so why do I?

Hot Flash

Hot Flash.

The hot flashes have made their appearance and while tolerable, they are terrible. I now know that Tamoxifen can trigger these sweat fests. I am also learning that the time of day I take my pill, the food I eat, as well as the alcohol I drink can affect the way my body responds. The most recent one occurred Saturday morning while I was trying to get ready for a tailgate party. I’ll just say that makeup application and a hot sweaty face don’t mix. The flashes last three to five minutes and feel like I’m standing in a hot oven. Sweat beads up on my scalp, face and body. Some are worse than others. I’ve noticed too that they are more severe during the week of my cycle. This makes sense since Tamoxifen is also a hormone blocker and during that time of the month, hormone levels are surging. My oncologist says that the drug may also put me into menopause. YEAH! – not.

I have met with my plastic surgeon the last two weeks. We had not met since the week I started back to work (late June). It’s time to start planning the next procedure and finish up the expansion. Three weeks ago I reached the 600 cc mark. My shape has changed considerably and I would like to be done with the saline injections. I like the way I look in my clothes and am anxious to get rid of the tissue expanders and exchange them for more comfortable silicone. My chest feels like two rocks and internally I often feel like, or imagine, what it must be like to be in an iron lung. Pain everyday and while I could take muscle relaxers I would not be functioning. Tylenol and ibuprofen get me through most days.

My surgeon and I discussed surgery and size. My body is pushing back and the injection amount has gotten much smaller. Three weeks ago it was 100cc and last Wednesday it was only 15cc. We are finally at the point of “over-expansion” and I have another appointment to check in with him later this week. I feel like I am starting to look a little like a cartoon character (Jessica Rabbit) and my figure is feeling very unnatural. The surgeon said overexpansion is necessary if I want to be close to the size I am now. Clothing does not fit like it used to and I don’t want to go buy much because my shape will change again after surgery. I never thought it would take this long but I know I am lucky. There are many women who are unable to start reconstruction right away either because of radiation or chemotherapy treatments. So I am not complaining, just realizing that my expectations were way off.

Surgery will likely be sometime in November which will allow my skin to rest and hopefully loosen up a bit more. Third phase of reconstruction will likely be in February or March, with the fourth and final phase being done in April or May. I continue to feel blessed that I have the great medical team that I do. I truly love my doctors and think that they are the best in the area. I know that this has helped in my recovery. Even their staff members are excellent!

Tomorrow, I begin physical therapy. I am excited about this because much of my upper body strength is gone. I really noticed this last week when I tried to close the lift gate on my vehicle. I couldn’t do it and was thankful for the automatic lift button! I have bought some weights and hope to learn some new routines tomorrow. I hope to be able to get ahead of what is coming in November and through exercise be able to do more after the next surgery. Also on the list for the week is a meeting with a nutritionist/dietician.

Two Weeks on Tamoxifen

Two Weeks on Tamoxifen.

It’s been two weeks since I began taking Tamoxifen. I have yet to experience the dreaded side effects and I keep praying that I will not. I’ve had a few hot moments that I thought were hot flashes from the medications but considering that the weather has included record breaking heat with daily temps over 95 degrees, I have to think that some of what I was feeling was what everyone else was feeling too! I am more tired but that is probably due to lack of sleep which I am still having issues with. Note to self: My mom had to take sleeping meds while on Tamoxifen – check with dr to see if there is a connection.

Reconstruction was going well. On June 20, I posted that I had had my first saline injections of 25 cc on each side. This has been followed by another 25, then 50 and 50,  then 75 and last week we maxed it out with 100 cc of saline on each side. I was told that the Dr. began with 50 cc in each tissue expander before sewing me up in surgery. I’ve got a total of 375 cc on each side which is about the equivalent to a can of Coke in each expander. If only that Coke can was standing on my chest rather than laying down horizontally under my pectoral muscles. I’ve got what I call the side boob. It’s okay, laugh. I do out of frustration and to keep from crying. This cancer stuff sucks. I know that nothing is ever going to look like what I once had (they weren’t big, but they were symetical and they were real). I had hoped at least that this process would make me feel more normal but in exchange for that I am in pain daily.

I put on a running tank the other day – the kind with the shelf bra – and it no longer fits. How the heck does that happen? And then I realize its the side boob that makes the shirt unbearable and too tight in the chest. In addition, the tissue expanders are rock hard. I keep hoping that this will all go away after the next surgery when they switch out the expanders for the real implants. I keep hoping that this will all be worth the effort but I’m not convinced anymore. All day today, it has felt like someone was poking me with a fork right along the lower edge of the expanders. I have been excited the past few weeks because I was making progress and my skin was expanding. This week has been different and I am finally understanding why the Dr. said I may be smaller with implants than before surgery. My skin has not moved much since last week’s injections. It is tight and shiny and painful. The Dr. told me that my skin would tell me (and him) when enough was enough. I fear that we are getting close, if not already there. He said he hoped to get me to 500 cc and now I think that was wishful thinking on his part and mine. At this point, I just want the surgery to switch these out, eliminate the side boob so I can wear a decent padded bra and get on with life. The whole point of reconstruction is to create an illusion of your former self and when the magic trick falls short of the expectation, it hurts the soul.

This isn’t about me feeling sorry for myself – far from it. These are just my thoughts about this whole process that is a giant frustration on so many levels. I have been an open book about my experience and I intend to continue for my own sake and others who seek unedited information. I won’t sugar coat this experience. Breast cancer is not some philosophical journey or path. Breast cancer is an ugly nightmare that is lived daily by an increasing number of women and men.  This is the place for me to share my thoughts. It allows me to “get it off my chest” so that I’m not constantly wearing these less than happy emotions on my face.

A Weight Lifted

It has been a very long day. Popular (outstanding) doctors are busy, which means that patients like me usually wait to see them. Today it was more than an hour in each of the two appointments that I waited to be seen. Waits that can bring a person to tears because of the drama being created in the mind. When you are waiting for test results that will determine the course of your life in the near and distant future, delays can make your imagination wander. Bad news comes before noon and at the end of the day…my appointment was for 10:20 and it is now 11:30…they must be taking longer because my case is complicated…they asked if I had a port because they think I will need one…stop thinking this way…the negativity is clouding my brain…must think positive thoughts and trust my gut that all will be okay.

We sat and waited some more and my mom, who is back in town for a few days, rubbed my back while I tried to calm my inner demons and fight back the urge to let the floodgates open and the tears flow freely. The past few days have been good but the nights, when the “what ifs” creep into my thoughts, have been full of silent tears.

My oncologist entered the room and I have my oncotype DX report read to me.

I have to repeat back to my doctor, “Did you just say, I don’t have to go through chemo?”  His answer was a resounding “YES!” He followed this with my breast recurrence score of 16 out of 100. For patients in this group who are like me with node-negative, ER-positive, Stage 1 or 2, the recommended treatment is 5 years of tamoxifen. For patients who had a Recurrence Score of 16, they had an average rate of distant recurrence of 10% during the 10 years following their breast cancer. With this number, chemo does not make sense for me.

The floodgates opened, and tears of relief flowed. I am lucky today and feel like I have dodged a big bullet. The surgery was hard. Tissue expansion is painful – every day. But I have been more afraid of the infusion chemotherapy than anything else. I will begin taking tamoxifen in about a week and see how this treatment goes. Tamoxifen is an anti-estrogen drug and has been used for more than 30 years to treat breast cancer in women and men. It reduces the risk of recurrence of breast cancer attaching itself to another part of the body. Yes, there are side effects that can include blood clots, strokes, uterine cancer and cataracts. The less serious ones include hot flashes, joint pain and leg cramps. I am not worried about taking this and know plenty of women who do so and are free of side effects.

To all of you who have prayed for me and healing: THANK YOU! GOD IS LISTENING!

My mom and I had a quick lunch break and then sat in another waiting room. I received another 50 cc of fluid in each tissue expander and while last week’s didn’t bother too much, today the pressure was again painful. By my counts, I have seven weeks to go before I can schedule the next surgery to switch out the expanders with the real implants. Today, I got to see what the differences are between saline, silicone and the new “gummy bear silicone gel implants” as well as the tissue expander. I now understand why I have the discomfort that I do. The tissue expander looks like a round plastic bag with rigid edges. It is not smooth but has a texture and is slightly opaque. It reminds me of a deflated balloon and as saline is added, the wrinkles fill out a little bit. Tissue expansion is a process much like how a woman’s stomach grows with a pregnancy. Each week, the baby and mother’s stomach grow and change in appearance.

Several of you have asked about the reconstruction process and I will speak to this more in the next blog. For now, if you are curious and want to learn more, I have found a great site that educates about reconstruction after breast cancer. Full disclosure: this site contains before and after torso photos of breast cancer patients. If you are under 18, talk to your parents before viewing the site: http://www.breastreconstruction.org/index.htm It is designed to give patients and those who care about friends or loved ones going through reconstruction from breast cancer some education and advice. I think that you will be amazed by what science and talented plastic surgeons are able to recreate.

 

 

 

 

 

Double Whammied

Everything was going great until this whole breast cancer thing

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