Archives for category: Breast Cancer

Today I had my mammogram. So if I psych myself out and think that there will be something bad, because I’ve suffered, I’m owed a good outcome. Or, I can influence the outcome with positive thoughts. Obviously, neither works. Magical thinking refers to the idea that your thoughts can influence an outcome. And while we don’t know exactly how attitude relates to the development of physical disease in the body, feeling good or bad about my mammogram today is not going to change the outcome.

Somehow in all of this mind body stuff, we began to think that we could control physical outcomes, like the development of cancer by a positive or negative attitude. We can’t. We can influence our coping skills and self care through attitude. Attitude impacts general well-being, I think. And we have to recognize that while depression and anxiety are sometimes “appropriate” feelings, we may not have to endure them. I’m all in favor of support meds and methods – anti depressants, therapy, exercise, meditation, pain meds, friends, or funny movies.

To me, I think the important thing is to recognize your feelings and go from there. Don’t feel guilty if you’re not feeling “positive”, let yourself feel the whole range of feelings whatever they are. Allow yourself to feel anger, anxiety, sadness. But don’t turn inward and blame yourself. When I have these feelings, I would seek some help – from doctors, family, support groups, etc. That’s one of my coping skills.

As for me, I’m reframing the mammogram to congratulate myself for doing it, and we’ll wait for the rest of the news as patiently as possible.

On Tuesday, the boobs and I have a date with the mammography machine. Boob sandwich. Since I’ve been on a low carbohydrate eating plan, this could be as close to a sandwich as I’m going to get. Ketchup and relish with that?

I am really hoping that this mammogram will be innocuous, because, as you know, this is my first mammogram post cancer diagnosis, lumpectomy, chemo and rads. I feel good, I feel strong, I don’t have a lot of anxiety. I’m trying to ramp down the magical thinking too…if I worry a lot it will be ok, if I don’t worry it won’t. Bah. But I have to deal in facts. My ultrasounds and exams have all been clear and I’ve felt nothing. I’ve had a crapload of treatment. And I know that whatever the outcome, I’ll deal with it.

I see my doctor on December 20 for ultrasounds, etc. Almost a year to the day of my diagnosis. But it’s just that, a year to the day, nothing less, nothing more. At least I’m trying not to infuse meaning in these dates, but to be present, in the present.

But anyway, think good thoughts for me and the boobs on Tuesday. It’s been a long year.

It’s been a while since I’ve written.

I have this dress. I used to like it, but it has bad karma. Really bad karma, death karma. I haven’t worn it since December 21, 2010. Last year, I wore it in January to a friend’s memorial service (she died of cancer), in April to my brother-in-law’s funeral (he died suddenly) and the day in December I found out my seemingly benign lump was malignant. Originally we were going out to dinner with some of Marco’s new colleagues. But we went to see the doctor instead because they called me. Yuck. But we move on, we deal with stuff, and this is how I’m dealing with this particular thing.

I pulled the dress out of the closet. I had a sudden dark feeling and then decided to give the dress to strangers. I’m going to drop it off in one of those clothing bins.

But I am settling into my post-treatment life. We’re moving first week in January and so I’m preparing for that, packing boxes and sorting through crap. I have a very obsessive sort of packing scheme where I label each box with a piece of colored duck (not duct) tape corresponding to the the room where it will go. I also have recorded the contents of each box in a computer file. But for a person usually living in a dervish of disorganization, this is not a bad scheme. And I have time.

My angry boob has healed. The scar is healed. All of my follow up visits were good. My hair is growing fast, it’s a bit curly and I actually like the gray color, something I thought I’d never say, but it doesn’t really look that old on me. It’s actually sort of chic. Although sometimes it has a wild Beethoven-finger-in the electric socket look to it.

Arimidex is a bit of a challenge. The worst part is that when I wake up in the morning and at different times during the day, my hands are stiff and a bit tingly. My moods are cycling a bit, and my blood pressure might be going up. . These are all possible side effects, so I just have to monitor and deal with them. I don’t have hot flashes, however. I want to take the drug, because I believe it will help me given what I know about its action and my tumor’s characteristics. I’m also trying to move around more, which seems to help. I’ve been going to Pilates and I’m trying to walk more.

It is weird to be done with treatment. I have a lot of follow up still, monthly visits to the oncologist – mostly to ease my own fears while I transition from one type of a patient to another. It is a little scary, because I feel cut loose. It’s not that I feel negative, but I’m no longer in that protective bubble (somewhat illusory, I’m sure) of treatment and monitoring. So I’m happy to have a monitoring transition.

My days are no longer managed around treatments or doctor’s appointments and I feel better, so I have more time. Time to live, and enjoy things, but also time to be anxious and think about the future. So I’m going to try to think about stuff other than breast cancer if I can, and enjoy each day as it comes. I’ll still be writing here, but less about breast cancer.

Actually, I’m doing NaNoWrMo (National Novel Writing Month), where one writes 50,000 words in the month of November. I’m just going to start to write and see where it takes me. When I’m not packing boxes, that is…..

Some random semantics.

Personally, I like the word boob. It’s a palindrome, the same word spelled backwards and forwards. Efficient. Upside down, it’s poop. So it’s a useful word. It makes a nice sound rolling off the tongue… a touch of otamatopia (however you spell that). Say boob slowly, and it sounds rounded, like, uh, a boob. It goes up and down like the shape of a breast. The word sounds like what it describes.

I want to giggle when I say “breast”. By itself, it makes me think of romance novels, but it might be because I know writers of such, and the word breast is usually in there somewhere. Or it’s a serious word, clinical. Breast. And right now, I associate the word with “cancer”. Breast cancer. It’s a hard word that doesn’t roll off my tongue, but sticks. Breast.

Another word that people use is tit. Also a palindrome, but also a hard word. You spit out the word “tit”. I don’t like it as much.

When I say boob, it feels comfortable, familiar. A little funny, with rounded edges. Others may find it disrespectful, but I don’t.

Wow…seven more radiation treatments to go. Then I am done.

Today I had the first of my final 8 treatments. Boosters. Boob Boosters? Whatever.

The zap is aimed at the tumor site, and focused. The distance from the source to my breast is short. I also understand that where the other treatments have been photons, this one is electrons. I have a whole new set of marks on me too… green and black. And I have a bandage of sorts for my armpit, which is rather irritated from the previous radiation.

There was a little moment of panic yesterday when the rad onc office called and asked me to bring my mammograms, and my rational self figured that it was so the doctor could make sure that they were aiming at the exact spot. We had some debate about the position of that spot yesterday – it was hard to find. And I have healed really well, the scar tissue is minimal, and the precise tumor site is no longer easy to find. So when I brought the films this morning, the office assistant seemed to suggest that the doctor wanted to see all my films, so I gave them to her, but had a little panic brewing in the back of my mind. But remember too – my German isn’t good enough to get nuances of language. Fortunately, I saw the doctor when they were positioning me, and asked him – and my initial impression was right – he just wanted to make sure they were aiming at the right place. Big sigh of relief. For M too, who had the same exact thought.

So I learned some interesting stuff too. I asked the staff how long they’d been using marks and tape rather than tattoos, and the one technician thought at least 20 years, although they’ve improved on their markers. I think these wash off better. The other tech explained that because breasts move around so much (and for sure, mine do), they like to have guide lines and targets so they can be precise. And for 7 weeks, it’s ok to have all this abstract art on me because I’d rather they didn’t miss. Plus, I think it makes the appointment more efficient. It sort of sucks in the heat because the tape peels…. but there is an endless supply of tape in this place. And markers.

On my last day of rads, it’s back to the oncologist to discuss armidex and our next steps. Also I’m going to see a nutritionist with an anti-cancer specialty, and I’m hoping I can do some serious work on this arthritic knee – I’ve not been able to walk as much as I would like. In other important news, my hair continues to grow back. Ta-da.

Although treatment is not really completed – I do have 5 years of drugs – the intensive part is almost over. Back to a sort of normal.

As of today, I have completed 18 of 36 zaps. I’m not terribly tired, feel pretty good and there isn’t a lot of irritation. In fact, my rad-onc doc said that he really expected me to show a lot more irritation at this point, evidence of burning, etc. So I’m underdone. But yay for me…I have good skin for a middle-aged broad, as my father would say. And good skin for radiation. Not that I want to make this a habit.

The other thing I noticed is that my left breast is more perky. It’s probably due to swelling and tissue changes as a consequence of the rads, but still…it’s a bit perkier than its partner. What do you call the other boob? Sister? Surely not brother. Partner? Partner in crime? Well anyway, it is more perky.

While I wouldn’t call this “a piece of cake,” this has been a much easier time than I ever would have imagined. Is this luck? Attitude? Good treatment? Me? Probably all of the above and a lot of reframing to concentrate on the positive.

And oh, it looks like my new hair is curly. And I have long eyelashes.

Well, the good news is that radiation isn’t so bad, and I’m a quarter done. Nine down, twenty-seven more to go. Next Wednesday, I’ll be a third done, and the following week, I’ll be half done. Sometimes it feels like forever, but it goes fast. And here I am, eight months into the year. A long time, and yet, not really.

But who knew that I’d become so obsessed, nay, dependent on tape throughout my treatment? Not me, for last January, I never even considered the importance of tape in my life. Especially waterproof tape. I have at least 10 pieces of waterproof tape on my breasts and chest area. The tape covers the marks, blue and red, that guide my position on the table (red) and the targets (blue). Sure don’t want those to be messed up, and get a zap in the wrong place. Tape is my friend, despite its annoying propensity to peel off at the edges.

I’m grateful that the tape is waterproof too, because that means I can have a shower…. carefully. And the world is grateful too since I can’t wear any deodorant under my left arm. The tape is doing a good job of staying in place, although it’s checked over during my radiation, and a few pieces have been replaced. I noticed that the radiation room has a generous supply of both tape and markers. Without tape, I guess I would have a tattoo. The markers will wash away, and I can’t help but think these extensive markings make it easier to position, aim and zap.

Tape was important during chemo, since it held my picc line in place, and again, waterproof tape enabled me to have a shower. Perhaps the most novel use of tape was during my initial hair loss when I would stick a piece of packing tape on my head and use it to pull out falling hair. That was fun. We find our fun where we can.

Anyway, I was a little nervous about my first radiation. The table seemed a bit narrow, but I’ve not fallen off it yet, and the radiation techs are all very nice. I’m usually done in 20 minutes. Very efficient. Almost always on time, usually early. I’m often done with the day’s zap before my scheduled appointment. I refer to radiation as zappage, it makes me feel more like wonder woman and less like plant life.

Because my upper outer left breast is zapped, I balance on my right hip a little bit, put my arms over my head, close my eyes and breathe. I also count off the seconds. First zap is in front, about 25 seconds, then there are two zaps on the left side, one lower than the other. Each left side zap is about 15 seconds. The last zap goes through a sort of filter – a triangle of metal that weakens the zap on one side, to protect the non-breast bits there. (Some important non-breast real estate in my chest, obviously). As a consequence, the last zap makes a different sound, sort of a whirring. The rad onc doc explained this to me when I asked him about the noise and the timing.

The radiation techs are amused with my shoes, too. I have a pair of Vibram Five Fingers. Shoes sort of like toe socks, but great for walking with my bad knee. These shoes will convince you of our shared heritage with monkeys and apes. My feet look like monkey feet, or some swamp monster. I think one of the techs was going to buy a pair for herself. It’s good to have something to laugh at.

To be honest, I don’t really think all that much about cancer per se. I think about being tired, I think about grey hair, I think about trying to get more exercise. I wonder if the middle of my right eyebrow will ever grow back. I think about finding a new place to live in Zurich early next year. I think a lot about moving forward. I will have hard work ahead of me because I’m in awful shape from my veg-out over the last 8 months. But I don’t think about recurrences or cancer cells growing in spots around my body. And that’s very, very good.

It’s nearly three weeks since my last chemo and I’m seeing some changes. The changes – improvements really – are small, and incremental. They are quite noticeable over time and they are very welcome. Chemo is hard, but we get through it. Lots and lots of women and men do. Our bodies do have a great capacity to heal, and even when we feel weak, there is a lot of underlying strength there.

I just feel better. So far I haven’t had much in the way of mood swings. I am starting to sleep better, mostly without the help of meds, and when I do need them, I’ve been able to decrease the dose. I think it’s easier to maintain a positive perspective.. Less reframing, more automatic. I just have to stay away from the news. Too depressing.

Not so hungry. I have felt like eating everything in sight at various times, accompanied by a buzzy, anxious feeling, and this is largely gone.

More stamina. When i leave my house to go to the car or walk Lily, I climb a hill equivalent to about 2 flights of stairs. It has been hard sometimes to make it up that hill. It’s getting easier. And i’m walking Lily a little longer each day.

Not so puffy. My feet have stopped swelling, hands and face look a lot better. My skin is better too… Not so red on my face (taxol/steroid flush), and not so dry on my face, arms and legs.

Neuropathy is minimal. About 75% of people on taxol experience peripheral neuropathy… Tingling and numbness in hands and feet. Mine was never really bad, and it seems to be decreasing.

Hair regrowth is interesting. My hair has been growing since May. I have almost an inch on my head. But it comes in waves and is asymetrical. I wish it was still dark, but it’s not. My left eyebrow is almost all back, but the right isn’t. My left eyelashes are long and curly, the right ones are not so long and more sparse. My hair has always been thicker on the left anyway, but it’s weird to see these differences as it grows back. Other than shaving my head in a snit, when else would i have this experience? Cool.

So now I have a lovely collection of marks on my torso. Looks like I’m wearing a Miro on my chest. Well, except it was drawn with something that looked like a sharpie, and covered in clear tape… Like that magic tape stuff.

Radiation is a high volume business. In and out, very efficient. Very punctual. It’s nice that they took a picture of me so that the staff can recognize me. It was a little more disconcerting to have a picture taken of me in position on the table, but that’s ok too. It reduces error. Lots of people have to see my bits these days, it’s simply not worth the trouble to worry about it. Given that Switzerland is the home of banking secrecy, I suspect they are careful with medical data too.

To be radiated, I lie down on this table, and put my head in a form. They prop my head up a little bit because my neck is short, my tumor site is up under my arm, and there’s considerable real estate in the breast area. My arms go up over my head. I’m going to close my eyes and relax, happy that I’ve been practicing meditation. And then I’ll be zapped, briefly. The table moves, the radiation source moves and buzz buzz. No zapping has happened yet, it starts next week. Each daily session should take less than half an hour, including undressing and getting dressed.

Earlier this week, I went to radiation oncology for “planning.” This is where they figure out the position I’ll take for each of my 36 radiation treatments, assess any issues that I might have, and set some preliminary targets (on my body). I also had a CT scan to gauge the position of my heart and lungs relative to the radiation targets. Today I had simulation. This is where they simulate the treatment, make sure the radiation source is positioned correctly, the target (me) is also positioned correctly. Hence the marks. No bullseyes though. Some of the marks designate the target…those are blue. The purple and red ones position me.

It’s a good thing I don’t plan to wear anything fancy for the next 7 weeks. Something low cut is definitely out.

I’m working on framing this as something to look forward to. It’s a drag to be marked up and have to be somewhere every day. On the other hand, the marks are amusing, this is a good chance for me to get out every day, and each treatment means I have one less ahead of me. Also a good chance to practice German. So, there I go. Plus, I am simply curious about the process.

Rads are done September 20.

Yesterday I reached a milestone of sorts. My final chemotherapy. Time for a deep breath.

Over the last 6 months I’ve had 16 infusions – the first 4 were every 3 weeks, and the last twelve were more or less weekly. I’ve been infused with derivatives of antibiotics and yew trees and whatever else, and yet, my body has done quite well. I never doubted that I would finish my treatment, and I never thought of giving up at all. I am surprised and pleased that the treatments weren’t more difficult to tolerate. My most prominent symptoms were tiredness, chemo-brain, mood swings and side effects from the steroids – increased appetite, fluid retention.

Yesterday, at the end of chemo, the nurse removed my PICC line. A part of me since January 21, I watched as she pulled the little sucker out of my arm. Sort of a weird feeling right around my shoulder as the 20 centimeter catheter slid down through my vein, and I was amazed at how tiny (1.5 millimeters in diameter) and stretchy the thing was. And it was purple! I guess that shows up on imaging better. So it’s gone. It was a great device, and I’m glad I had it, but I’m also glad it’s gone. RIP, PICC.

I feel good because I accomplished this, my clinical indicators are positive, and I’ll be followed closely. Every three months by my surgeon/gyn and by my oncologist. Although I’ll see the onc in about 8 weeks to start my Armidex, and rather more frequently at first to see how I do on this particular drug. There are side effects and tolerance issues and we’ll just have to see. But I’m positive that it will all be fine.

So I move on to the next phase…Radiation – more about that as it happens. I do know a couple of things about rads… no underwire bras, and probably no deodorant on the left side while I’m having my rads. Also, no baths or swimming, but showers are ok. Thankfully for everyone. I should be able to take myself to my own appointments… and I’m aiming for a 2pm daily one – reasonable parking, not too much traffic back and forth, and I can have lunch with a friend or something before rads..

But of course, for me, every day, for 7-ish weeks, even if it is 20 minutes…going to be fun!!!

My hair continues to grow, and I’m on the fence about the gray. Back and forth.