Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A "B" or not a "B'" - That Is the Question

Breast reconstruction surgery. Am I going to do this or not? I understand that if I am going to have this surgery, I need to decide ASAP, since the tissue on the radiated side tends to become less and less flexible as time passes, making the "plumping out" of the tissue more difficult.

The plus side of having reconstruction would be that I would no longer need to wear a bra, if I didn't want to. The newbies would be firm as a foam pillow, with NO NIPPLES to show through shirts, unless I choose to have those babies reconstructed also, not just tattooed on. Also, the sweaty season of NC summer would be much more bearable, since the silicon inserts are hot, hot, hot.

The downside for me would be two-fold: first the surgery, which is no small undertaking, involving moving tissue from my latissimus muscles under the skin around to my front; and second, the after effect, which is loss of upper body strength. I have little enough upper body strength now; I hate to think how weak I could become. Also, although I am not afraid of surgery, I recognize that complications DO occur, so elective surgery needs thorough study.

For the past couple of weeks I have experimented with going to my exercise class with no prosthesis under the tshirt. For all the world, I look like I did at age ten, except for the gray hair and glasses; and I've got to say, I don't mind the look and I LOVE the way it feels. It seemed a little weird at first, going out in public with no bosom....fake or otherwise... but I have grown accustomed to the freedom from straps and elastic. I just wish I could go bare under all my clothes as easily as I can under a tshirt.

I have had conversations with women who have had reconstruction, but none of them were in the same situation as I am, with limited options in the type of procedure available. Most of them were able to have the surgery done at the same time as their mastectomies, and that alone would make a huge difference for me. One of my breast cancer friends has suggested that I do some investigation via a website, http://www.breastcancer.org/, where I will be able to find discussion groups centered on my specific questions and situation. I think that will be my next step.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Finished and Done

For a number of years I have noted the increasing use of the word "done" to mean "finished" - as in, "I am done with this project." To my ears this construction sounds foreign....or, pardon me....Yankee. In my house, we would say that a baking potato was "done" when the interior was fully cooked; but if I were digging potatoes and completed the task, then I was "finished." I fear I am losing this linguistic battle (along with the one concerning the proper use of "lay" and "lie") but, regarding my cancer treatment, I think I can employ both "finished" and "done" in a proper form to describe my experience.

On Wednesday, November 24, 2010, I finished all of my medical treatment for breast cancer. In addition to 6 weeks of chemotherapy, I received 33 doses of radiation, including the final 5 which were aimed directly at the scar. Of course, I am happy to have this treatment behind me, but I cannot complain about the experience since it did not greatly interfere with normal life.

I also would say that I am done - as in "completely cooked." If you could see the skin on my chest and back, you would understand this terminology. Although I have not suffered much pain, I do resemble the proverbial boiled lobster. In addition, I cannot be exposed to any more radiation - EVER - in this region of my body, so I am as fully cooked as I can be.

So now I just have to wait and watch. This stance will be harder for me than facing chemotherapy and radiation, but I have no choice.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Coming Down the Stretch

The end is in sight. Not the end of me, praise God, but the end of my treatments. I have 9 more radiation sessions, and the last 5 of them will be aimed at the scar on my chest because that is the region most likely to experience a cancer recurrence. Who knows why that is?

As I have mentioned before, radiation has been a "no problem" experience. Even the burning and itching part has not really made much of a dent in my normal activities. I have been careful to keep the burned area "lotioned up" with Udder Cream, and cortisone cream has handled the itch just fine.

As you can see from the photos, my hair is returning. Everyone wants to know if it is curly, since I did have curly hair prior to this experience, and I have been told that often the texture and curliness factor change after chemotherapy. So far, I can't tell much difference. The texture seems the same, and it is growing at a distinct angle; but it's not long enough to curl yet, so the jury is still out on that question. Interestingly, the layout of gray and dark seems exactly as it was before the hair came out. When Gord shaved me down to the nubbins back in June, I was very conscious of a dark, leopard-like spot in the middle of my graying pate. Now that the hair is returning, I can see the same dark spot in the middle of the gray on the top of my head.

Since colder weather is upon us, I am happy to have a bit more cover on my head. Going without hair has given me a greater understanding of husband Gordon's love of caps. Being follically challenged, he seldom leaves the house without one, and now I get it. It's amazing how chilly you can get, even bundled up below the chin, if your head is exposed.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Not Everyone Grew Up at My House

It is embarrassing to admit, but I was a young adult before I fully understood that my point of view was not a fairly universal view. Obviously, I accepted that people might differ on political issues or social issues or even on what to have for dinner, but there were certain perspectives that just seemed obvious "givens" to me. Then I took the Myers/Briggs personality assessment, and my eyes were opened somewhat. Today, I had another experience with my perspective not being the only one.

This morning's radiation session was a few minutes delayed, so I had some time to chat with the other "ladies in waiting." One nice older woman from N. Wilkesboro (a Granny Clampitt type) and I were waiting and had been chatting, when another woman I had seen on occasion came in. This woman seemed nervous as a cat, even though I knew this was about her second week of treatments. I had taken note of her on her first day, because she seemed somewhat "undone" - had failed to check in properly, didn't want to undress as she was directed, couldn't seem to get the lock to work on the clothes locker, etc. Anyway, this morning her eyes kept darting this way and that, and she latched onto our conversation about chemo, asking numerous shaky questions about side effects, etc. Everything seemed to make her more and more uneasy.

This unhappy lady was called for her radiation session, leaving me with Granny Clampitt, who filled me in on what this nervous woman had told her yesterday: that she might just quit her treatment...that she was so frightened by it. This attitude I find simply amazing and incomprehensible. How could a few minutes in a radiation lab be more frightening than letting cancer have its way with your body? And radiation is just NOT scary, although the technicians tell me that some people feel claustrophobic lying under the machine. That seems strange to me, since the apparatus merely hangs over ones body; you are not enclosed in it.

This experience reminds me of a story about a woman from my hometown who knew she had something wrong in her breast. The description of her overt symptoms are too graphic and unpleasant for me to write here, but the bottom line is that she knew she had cancer, but did not go to the doctor for months and months, and by then the cancer was too advanced to do anything about it. I believe that she was just so afraid of having the cancer confirmed by a physician, that she preferred to pretend it didn't exist. Again, astounding!

Even if Granny Clampitt grew up in N. Wilkesboro, NC and I grew up in Winnsboro, SC, we seem to have "grown up in the same house," because she and I agreed that we feel lucky to be able to come to treatment every morning at a good hospital, with knowledgeable doctors and caring personnel who want to help us get well.