It has been quite the last few months. My apologies for not updating since….June? Geez. I wasn’t even done with chemo quite yet when I made that last post. I think I hit a point where I just didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I felt like my life was jammed full of treatment and side effects and people asking how I was doing (which don’t get me wrong, I appreciate everyone’s concern 100%), but the idea of sitting down and focusing on THE CANCER more than necessary was unappealing.
So here I sit. It’s September. The last few months have gone like this: I finished up chemo on 6/26. It was a bit anticlimactic, I don’t know what I expected, except to FEEL something more about the last time. But I didn’t. It came and went like any other day, and I think it hit me more the following Monday when I didn’t have to go get stuck. Over the next few weeks, I went to see the radiation oncologist to get ready for the next phase. Had tattoos applied to each side, and some stickers that became a part of me for a few months, marking the spots where they needed to line me up on the machine. I saw my plastic surgeon, who deflated my expanders a bit, so that they weren’t in the way of the area that needed to be zapped.
THEN WE WENT ON VACATION. A much needed beach trip to NC, which was everything we wanted it to be.
2 days after returning home, I began the 29 (actually ended up being 30 days, because the machine broke down halfway through one of them so an additional treatment got tacked onto the end) treatments. It went fairly uneventfully for the first few weeks. Barely turned pink/tan. I was fatigued, but it was hard to parse what was due to the chemo residuals and what was due to the radiation. Following treatment, it can take 6 months to a year to really feel like your old self, energy-wise anyways. Then I noticed a small spot under my arm that was starting to peel and look angry….and it got bigger….and bigger…..until it was pretty much the whole area on my underarm/side down to below breast level. In addition to a strip down my sternum, maybe 2 inches wide and 6 inches or so long. Picture a giant rectangle going down my sternum to below my breasts, and then cut straight over to my side, stopping just after slightly wrapping around to my back. That was the area being targeted. Because I had lymph involvement, he wanted to make sure to hit the central lymph nodes near my sternum, as well as the whole area the axillary nodes were taken from, and the entire breast. Because the burning was so extensive, I had to keep it pretty well bandaged/protected, and treated a few times a day with an antibiotic cream. Combined with the fatigue, it was too much to deal with while still working full time, so I ended up going back out on disability leave for 2 weeks and 2 days. Also during this period of time, I started taking the hormone blocking medication, Tamoxifen. This is an enormously vital treatment for those of us with hormone-positive cancer. It works to block those hormone receptors in the cancer cells, so they can’t feed and grow. As my obgyn put it, “it’s like throwing a black tarp over the lawn so sun can’t get to it”. It can come with a host of side effects, but women who have this drug as an option for treatment count themselves “lucky” to have it. I’ll take it for either 5 or 10 years, depending on what the research shows when I reach that point. So far, I have noticed joint pain, especially in my hands, hot flashes, and some irritability. None of it is worth stopping the drug by a long shot. I also said goodbye to that bastard, Mr Port. Thanks for your assistance, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
So where to go from here? I have returned, again, to work today. Physically speaking, I see my oncologist this Thursday for my first 3 month f/up. I believe I will see him every 3 months for a year, then every 6 months for a few years, then annually after that. I do have some anxiety about going, as I think I will for every single medical appt for a long time. You don’t know what it’s like to go to what you think will be a routine appt and have your life irrevocably changed, until….well, until you do. I saw my obgyn for a physical last week, and was led back to the same room I saw her in when I first found my lump. As soon as the nurse left, I just broke down, it all came rushing back to me. No bad news given this time, though. 🙂
In addition to those f/ups, I will begin seeing my plastic surgeon again for maybe 4 visits to put back the fluid that they took out of the expanders. Radiated skin does not stretch as well as non-radiated, so hopefully it goes ok. Once it’s been stretched out once, it SHOULD make for an easier time the second time around. I have to wait 6 months post-radiation before I get them out, and the permanent implants put in. So that puts me around next March.
This has been one hell of a long road. And that’s an understatement. I’m glad for my mental sanity that I didn’t realize that November day the magnitude of exactly what lay ahead for us during these last 10 months. I feel like my head is still spinning, and I’ve spent so much time IN the fight, that I’m just now starting to come down and breathe. Which, ironically, is where my anxiety is increasing. Learning to cope, learning how to go forward without guarantees or absolutes. I’ll get there, but it’s going to be a while. I know that everyone is probably ready for life to be normal again, nobody more than me…..but it’s just not going to feel like, “whew, all done” for a long, long time.