Thursday, August 26, 2010

One year cancer-free....

One year ago today I had my surgery to remove the breast cancer. As soon as that breast was gone, as far as I'm concerned, the cancer was also gone. All treatments since then have been prevention of recurrence. I feel healthy. I feel happy. They say that the 'magic' number for being cancer-free is 5. I can't believe I'm 1/5 of the way there already!!

Last Aug 26: mastectomy
This Aug 26: fabulous haircut (special treat by Suzanne - she truly spoils me) & a truly decadent pedicure where my feet haven't felt so smooth in years.... then a delicious & healthy dinner followed up with a good movie (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).

Yup - I got a haircut. Everyone has been telling me how cute my 'pixie' style hair is so I'm keeping it that way - now it is actually meant to be so short on purpose. Get used to it folks because I love it! I'll post pics when I get home from Calgary.

I am still waiting patiently to hear from the plastic surgeon when my expander replacement surgery will be. I will phone him tomorrow to bug him a little....

Thank you everyone for all your love and support over the last year. It makes bearing the load a lot easier when people to share it with you!

Friday, August 13, 2010

I think I'm turning into Howie Mandell

Those who know me well might get a good laugh at the thought of me being a germophobe - but it's growing more and more true.

I think it started a couple years ago after I took my Level 2 First Aid. They stressed the importance of thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water for 30 seconds before doing any first aid due to the horrific germ transfer through hands.

Then there was H1N1 and the hospitals were really antsy about that and had removed all reading materials and puzzles etc. But they also have stickers above every door handle and toilet flusher that says something along the lines of '4,425 people weekly touch this door handle - please wash your hands' - and they have hand sanitizer ALL over the place.

And with me having been immune compromised during chemo, I did a LOT of hand-washing.

So now I've become more and more obsessed with it and am getting freaked out about what happens around me. So - for example, I not only wash my hands with soap and water before preparing any food, I also will wash them a couple of times during the process as well - mainly depending on what's for dinner and what else I've done.

I always carry hand sanitizer in my ball bag but this past weekend, I wasn't playing so I didn't have my gear out. There are port-a-potties readily accessible between the diamonds or you can walk quite a distance to the flush toilets with sinks. I made the trek - I looked around me at all the ball players who were in and out of those potties with NO hand-washing facilities or hand sanitizer in them, and then they go about playing their game - ie, touching the ball and throwing it to others. And then after the game, everyone shakes hands! And the WORST thought I came across was people using the potty, then coming out and digging their hand into a bag of sunflower seeds (a ballpark staple) which ALWAYS get shared! It grossed me out.

I have made myself a mental note to NOT eat other people's sunflower seeds, and I am going to put my own into a Tupperware container with a pour spout so nobody needs to dig into it.

Bearing in mind, it's not like I JUST started washing my hands only a couple years ago (ew) - but I didn't really obsess on it like I do now. Of course I always wash (and washed) my hands after using the facilities - but now I really spend time on it. The first aid people told us to sing 'Happy Birthday' while washing your hands and that's about the right length of time.

Hand sanitizer is not my favourite thing, however, it is SO much better than the thought of not having an option for cleaning your hands. Of course, then I start obsessing about the germs on the pump handles etc. I think the touchless soap & sanitizer dispensers are going to be a big market for me!!! Plus, I have started bringing Lysol wipes with me so I can wipe off the surfaces that I think could be suspect.

How does a slob like me become a germophobe? I still can't figure it out.


This is my public service announcement for the day.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ladies - don't forget your mammograms & monthly self exams!

And, don't forget THIS:

'Extra' Surgery

Just got home from my appt with the plastic surgeon.

He is investigating the option of removing my current tissue expander and replacing it with a 'taller' one, that will stretch the tissue further down on my chest.

When the expander was put in, it is mostly deflated. I'm sure they try to position it as accurately as possible, but no matter what, it is a balloon that gets filled at intervals to stretch the skin and muscle - so of course where the stretch goes the most will also have to do with the elasticity of my tissue. So in my case, it expanded more upward than downward, which pulled the scar out of alignment with my other breast. So if he attempted to put an implant in where the tissue is stretched now, I would end up with a very bizarre rack. Probably not much more bizarre than I'm dealing with now though but hopefully we can improve it.

Anyway, my other option is to skip the implant altogether and have a breast built out of tissue from my stomach. It is an extensive and painful surgery and one I'm not really willing to consider. I think that my ego is in check enough that I would rather have a weird looking boob than hack into other perfectly sound parts of my body to help make up what is a completely aesthetic reason.

Honestly, my boobs didn't look that great before all this cancer stuff started, and so I don't feel the burning need to hack up other parts of my body in order to end up with some perfect rack. I had talked to a couple of other people who've had the 'tummy tuck' option and they both told me that if they could go back and make the choice again, they wouldn't choose it.

So it's kind of drag but it's an extra surgery because I would have to leave the new implant in for 4 - 6 months or so before the 'real' reconstruction. However, I think I would prefer this to having my stomach cut open.

Anyone else have any opinions on this? I know it would be hard to put yourselves in my shoes - but I'd love to hear what you ladies have to say about my thought process. I asked the plastic surgeon if I was being unreasonable about REALLY not wanting the 'other' kind of surgery and he didn't think so especially because he was examining all my other scars and realized that I am not an easy healer - my scars are vivid and wide so he realizes by cutting other parts of my body, I would just really be scarring it up a lot.

On another note, every time I go there, he looks at my remaining breast and pinches the skin underneath and holds it up higher on my chest and shakes his head and laments my giant sagging boob. I wish he'd get over - I'm 40 for God sake! I told him 'THAT'S WHAT BRAS ARE FOR'. Of course, I think he's just worried about me - I think that being a plastic surgeon there is a LOT of pressure on them for perfection as cosmetic procedures are costly and the women having them done demand perfection. I doubt he's used to my 'AH, good enough' approach. Not that I would refuse a lift if he offered it - but I just don't care enough about it.

As long as whatever I end up with fits into a bra that I can stuff if it isn't exactly equal, and my clothing looks normal, I don't really care much about the underneath if it will avoid extensive surgery and scars.

Monday, August 9, 2010

I feel like 'The Gipper'

This past weekend, my ball team (the Crazy Dutch Bastards) played in our league's year end tournament playoffs. After an extremely exciting nail-biting game that went THREE extra innings, my team managed to pull off the win even though they didn't have last bats!

I opted out of regular playing this season to allow for my treatment (and travelling ) - so I only played 1/2 a game all season - but to be there and cheer them on and see them do so well was extremely rewarding.

I am kinda feeling like they 'won it for the Gipper'. I didn't know even where that phrase came from until I just Googled it - so I rescind the statement since 'The Gipper' was a professional athlete who died from a throat infection in the 1920s and they didn't even get told to win one for him until after he died...... I guess it doesn't really apply after all....

My team came close to it last September in our Provincials tournament - they were finalists and I was still really proud - but I did not get to watch that effort as I was unavailable. (I'd like to say recuperating, which is SORTA true - but the real truth is that I was travelling in Idaho for a flyball tournament with Cam).

I'm really proud of them and wanted all you blog-followers to know that 2010's Aug 7 weekend kicked ASS on 2009's Aug 7 weekend!!!!

Friday, August 6, 2010


Today is the anniversary of the day I was diagnosed with cancer. Last year, The date was August 7 - but it was this day, being the Friday before this particular weekend which I remember clearly because good friends of mine got married and they are celebrating their anniversary this weekend. Which made for a strange experience at the wedding.

Of course, I had no intention of telling my good friends on their wedding day that I had cancer since it was THEIR show and I didn't want to put a damper on it. So Cam and I attended the wedding - and yes - we had a GREAT time! Of course the cancer was always in my thoughts - it's hard not to obsess. But I did my best to keep pushing the thoughts away and enjoy myself.

What many of you don't know is that I received the diagnosis on my own due to my own stupid stubbornness. Cam had arranged to have the time off to accompany me to the surgeon's office but the night before we had a big fight. About what? I couldn't exactly say - it might have been about vacuuming - but if it wasn't that, it was something equally as mundane. I was livid. I decided that he wasn't coming with me and told him so. He probably said something like 'FINE' - but in the morning he got up and got dressed with every intention of coming with me. I was still angry and would not talk to him. So I went out to the car, and he came out onto the front steps to put on his shoes and I ignored him as I hopped in the car and drove away.

On the way to the surgeon's office, I told myself that no matter WHAT the diagnosis was, I wasn't going to tell Cam. I am not sure why I thought that not knowing this life-changing information was suitable punishment for fighting about vacuuming (or whatever it was - so important that I can't even remember). But there is no explaining the wrath of a woman - especially mine (remember when I chucked Cam's lunch in the backyard??).

So because I am a total idiot, I received my cancer diagnosis by myself with no support on hand. The surgeon didn't beat around the bush and including the 'packet' of breast cancer info she handed me the whole visit was probably 10 minutes. In the packet was a book on breast cancer and she opened it to show me & dog-ear the pages of the photos of mastectomies. I was told that I had to decide whether I wanted a mastectomy or a lumpectomy and both have the same survival rate, but of course a lumpectomy leaves breast behind which would obviously offer more opportunity for recurrence in that breast than removing the whole thing. There was NO guidance on which was better - just the info and the instruction to decide.

So, I wandered out of her office in a daze and got into my car to drive home. Thankfully, my dazed brain completely forgot my prior rage and the first thing I did was phone Cam (who had gone to work - what else could he do when he's stranded at the doorstep) to tell him. He immediately came home to be with me. After that, I called my mom and blubbered into the phone about having cancer - most of which was unintelligible by that point since my emotions were finally leaking through. Of course, this was before the rule about talking on your cellphone when driving came in. I'm sure I was a poster board for dangerous driving that day. I'm sure I shouldn't have been driving at all in my shocked state.

Then I called Cam's mom and dad. All the parents showed up at my house to offer love and support. It was a strange day - knowing but not having any idea what to expect. Of course, it didn't even cross my mind to go into work but my employers were very supportive and understanding - and have been through the whole process.

So there was some amount of time lag between Cam driving home and all the other parents arriving where I was home alone with my new information. In one of my emails, a good friend had asked me to call him - as it turns out, it was to ask if I would dog-sit. Unfortunately for him, I kind of blindsided him when he asked the routine question of 'how are you' - and got the answer 'I have cancer' instead of the more common 'Fine - how are you'. So I have apologized to him about the blindsiding but he has told me that he was grateful to hear directly from me instead of through the grapevine or in an email (which, of course, is the method that most people DID find out).

After everyone arrived, we all talked about it and then I made some phone calls to some support agencies to see if I could get more information - I didn't actually know what I was supposed to do next. So I believe I mulled everything over on the weekend and needing more information, I phoned the surgeon's office again on Monday. The receptionist there was less than helpful. Of course, I was looking for information about my situation and she was just a receptionist (as opposed to having medical knowledge) but her attitude of 'how could I possibly remember anything about you when I have so many other people to deal with' was a little disconcerting. I thought a little more compassion was in order and basically I told her so. In the end she agreed to have the surgeon call me.

I didn't hear back that day, so on Tuesday morning I went to my local clinic doctor (who had been sending me to the diagnosic appointments) to see if I could get more information. Although the whole experience with that clinic doctor is a complete story on its own, I won't go into it at the moment - however, one thing she said to me that I found useful and has stuck with me is "don't be afraid to be pushy - YOU'RE the one with cancer".

So after some discussions with Cam and family, and after talking to the support agency and reading the info in the book and remembering the survival rate information, I had finally made a decision to have a lumpectomy - but I hadn't had a proper MRI as yet, so if the MRI showed anything different, I would go for the mastectomy.

Once the decision was made, things became easier. I phoned the surgeon again and left a message that I had made my decision and what it was. I did hear back from her that day and she confirmed that it was indeed ok to change tactics at the last minute in the same operating slot IF the MRI showed something of concern. The reason this was important is that I found out I had cancer on Aug 7, and she booked my surgery for Aug 26 - and my MRI was happening in between - so we wouldn't have the results of the MRI until just a few days before surgery was scheduled.

As you may remember, the MRI did show something of concern - a second mass - which had only a 20-30% chance of being cancer - but since I had already made the decision to switch to mastectomy if the MRI showed anything weird, it wasn't a hard choice to make. The good news is that I had Cam with me at that appointment - and we had some foreshadowing that I wasn't going to be hearing great news because the surgeon's office had called me in early for my appointment. And it was extremely hot in her office and I almost passed out after she told me - obviously a combination of the heat and the stress.

I was so glad that I had decided to book surgery right away and then deal with the MRI later because the province was shutting down operating theaters in September and operating space was at a premium. I was told I got one of the last couple of operating slots or else I would have waited another 4 - 5 weeks before surgery. I never thought I'd be grateful to be going under the knife - but I was.

Any of you could ask Cam or my parents for confirmation on this, but I was not nervous or scared on my surgery date. I was anxious to get it over with and get the damned cancer OUT. But who knows - maybe I'll do another anniversary post at the end of August on the surgery date itself.

I anticipate this Friday before the wedding weekend to be much better than last year's - and as you can see, I've gotten an early start on it. Generally, I haven't had any problems sleeping like I did during the heavy treatments, but today I guess is an exception.

Thanks for walking down this memory lane with me. I am so happy it IS a memory - long in the past now. All the uncertainty and fear I felt last year on this day has been replaced with confidence and optimism. It's a MUCH better feeling, I can assure you!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Radiation is now a closed chapter...

I met with my radiation oncologist this morning who examined me and explained that the discoloration on my skin will all disappear within another 6 weeks. She also told me that I don't need to have mammograms on my mastectomy side, and I have to have yearly diagnostic mammograms on my right breast, plus 2 manual exams by my doctor per year - plus my own self-breast exams. She also told me about a place that will remove my radiation tattooes for free. Then she shook my hand and said I was done with that part of treatment and she doesn't need to see me anymore. Cool!

Last night, Cam and I returned from Oroville where we spent the weekend with some friends that met down in Desert Hot Springs. We had a blast so did the dogs. They have a dog too and Cooper played with her non-stop and he was loving running around in the woods. They live on a mountain on a 40-acre ranch - it was gorgeous - nice view of Osoyoos Lake. Hope to get back there soon to visit again.

I'm a little bummed because the Meatloaf concert was cancelled and we were going. So now we have to hang onto our tickets to see when(if) they re-schedule the show.

I'm also bummed that there is a serious campfire ban on so I won't be able to enjoy my nightly campfire on my next trip to Tulameen.

I guess in the scheme of life, these things are small issues to be bummed about. ha ha