Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Few Things They Don't Teach You in "Breast Cancer School"

Every time I think I have written all that is possible on this blog, I'll be walking along, minding my own business, and another post will come to mind. This morning, I was walking the dog and slapping my right armpit (more on that later), and I realized that there were a number of things about cancer, cancer recovery, cancer side items, etc., that no one ever mentioned to me. Worthy of a blog post? What the heck.

First of all, the armpit slapping. Since I had lymph nodes removed under my right arm...9 of them...I have scarring and major numbness under that arm. In the year since surgery the feeling has been returning to that area gradually, but the accompanying feeling is like an interior itch that I cannot reach to scratch. I never have had a broken bone, but I imagine that this itch/burn/zinging sensation is a bit like the itch that you cannot scratch inside the cast. The itch isn't constant, thank the Lord, but seems to come in spurts which last anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days. I am in the middle of one right now that started last evening at bedtime, continued through the night, and is still going pretty strong. Slapping the area seems to ease the sensation better than actual scratching. Maybe the slap does something to deaden the nerve endings. Who knows?

Second thing I didn't know was that brassieres could be considered "medical necessities." I had a pleasant surprise when I visited what I call "the fake bosom store" last week to purchase a new bra to remedy the "wardrobe malfunction" which I mention in an earlier post. Come to find out that Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC will buy 6 bras per year for me, and new "fake bosoms" every other year. In my whole life I have never purchased 6 bras in one year, but now my insurance company will pay for them. Also, some other clothing items, like camisoles designed to hold the breast prostheses, are also considered "bras" for insurance purposes. Interesting?

The third thing I have learned about is the decidedly job-like nature of "not having cancer." Having surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation were simple, scheduled, straightforward, and finite options for saving my life. They did not require much thought or investment on my part; I just had to show up physically and tolerate the protocol. Now that I am living in a post medical intervention period, I find that I must invest a tremendous amount of time, thought, and effort in the work of staying cancer-free. (I know some people just do the "medical thing" and then live their lives as if the cancer never happened, but that is just NOT ME.) So almost every day I spend time thinking about what will be beneficial to eat; how I am sleeping; whether I am taking time to relax, pray, meditate; how I am improving/cleaning up my environment; whether I am getting enough exercise; and so on. I realize how fortunate I am to have the time and the financial resources to focus on my health in this way, and I pray that in some future world, the care for cancer patients will include some clearly delineated path for post-treatment self-care, such as what I have designed for myself. No one told me to do it this way, so maybe my experience is rare. But for now, I wake up each morning feeling that I have a job to do, and it sure takes a lot of time. But BEING ALIVE and HAVING TIME are good things.

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