My Breast Cancer Journey

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Spikes – A Message of Hope


After my shower the other day, I noticed for the first time in a LONG time, my hair (what little there is of it) did something more than lay flat on my head:



It’s very fine & soft, and looking darker than I thought it would.  A few days later and with a dark background, it actually looks like it could be styled, at least on the top and left sides of my head.

I’ve been through and finished my radiation treatment.  You’ll remember back when the first Breast Surgeon said I was “Ample”.  Well, because of my Ampleness/Amplitude(?), the burns from radiation were aggravated into blisters, and so that treatment was cut one or two sessions short of the plan.

At one point the pain and irritation were such that I didn’t care to do anything that required movement of my left arm, or the wearing of a bra.  I didn’t even care to take a photo of my full-on misery until it was well into the healing process and much less painful.

WARNING:  Gross photo below…
Read the rest of this entry »


Head’s Up!

Thank you Jae for the new header for my blog!

Neuropathy – Parking A Boat


After 18 weeks, I’m done with Chemo.

Done because of a condition called neuropathy.  Numbness & tingling and sometimes pain in the extremities, caused by Taxol – a chemo med that I had been given 10 times via infusion.  My oncologist says that dealing with neuropathy as a side effect of chemo is like parking a boat.  The effects (boats) keep going long after you stop chemo (accelerating), and you can crash into the dock if you don’t let up soon enough.  So he decided, as I described my symptoms (pain in zipping my hoodie, and having to look at what I’m doing if it requires fine motor skills), to stop my Taxol infusion 2 weeks early.

Next stop, Radiation.

My hair started growing back over the Holidays.  Except for being completely cue-balled for the few weeks that overlapped my first & second rounds of chemo, I’ve never had so little hair – I was born with MUCH more.  You can see in the photo that my eyebrows have thinned out and my eye lashes are mostly gone.  That happened about the same time I noticed the hair on my head starting to grow back.  The good news is, when my eyebrows come back they will be thick and dark, and I’ve heard that look is coming back into style! 🙂

I’m seriously considering an experiment with my armpits, and going all Humboldt Honey.  The old wives tale says that, if you never shave your armpits and legs, that you’ll never have to, because the hair will stay thin & fine.  At this point, I’ve got no one to impress, nor the talent to do so.  One less item on my daily to-do list can’t be a bad thing.  Right?


Observation Post

I return after a long absence with a short post and a couple of observations and an opinion about hair:

– Without the prescribed amount of body hair, we humans are very sticky.

– You might be a Latina if, after losing most of your hair to chemo, the last to let go is the stubborn stuff on your chin.

– If humans all had completely bald heads, I believe there’d be less observable difference between cultures, ethnicities and races, and, therefore, less war.  Observe for yourself.  Do a Google Image search of “Chemo” and see how much alike we all look with no hair, minimal eyebrows & lashes, and only our smile to distinguish us.

Generosity – A Million Grains of Hair

My Balding Head

I’ve rarely been touched on my own behalf – especially lately.  Give me a great story about a special child, or a baby, or someone else turning their life around, and I’m a bumbling mess.  But I don’t give myself much time or space to feel sorry for myself, or to even think much about my situation.  It just isn’t what I do.

What little hair I had left has been falling out the past few days, and I’ve been going out in the beanies crocheted by my cousin.  My eyebrows are a lot thinner than in this photo.  I was sporting one of those beanies this afternoon when I went to grab lunch at a Chinese fast food place.  I had ordered, and whipped out my debit card, when I was informed that they take cash only.  WHAT!?  Who only takes cash!?

I told the cashier then that I’d have to go to the ATM over at the grocery store around the corner.  She pointed me to the ATM at the back of their store.  I have a credit union debit card, that a lot of ‘free range’ ATM’s don’t like.  This was one of those ATM’s.

“I’ll have to come back.  Your ATM doesn’t like my card,” I said and headed for the door.

On my way out, the gentleman coming in the door pointed me back to the cashier.  The man who had been in line behind me said, in a pretty thick Latino accent, “I pay for you, Lady.”

He had to repeat it for my disbelief to be suspended.  I felt my eyes welling up.  It wouldn’t have been a big deal for me to go    to the ATM at the grocery store, but I didn’t really want to – otherwise I’d have gotten cash first, since it was on my list of things to do.

“Wow.  Really?  Thank you very so much!”  That’s not a type-o.  I was so overwhelmed and overcome that I said ‘thank you very so much’.

I don’t know if he thought I had cancer, or if he would be that nice to anybody else.  But I was touched to emotion about it, and still well up.

So, today I consider the day I lost my hair.

Though I had my head shaved in mid-September, it was just a very short buzz cut.  Today I am mostly bald, and am finding ‘whiskers’ EVERYWHERE – my pillowcase, the bathroom sink, on my white shirt and in my eyes.

What my pillow looked like this morning.

In the title photo, you can see that there are a lot of hairs laying down.  Those are NOT attached to my head.  My head feels smooth in most places, and the fuzz left on my head isn’t catching like velcro anymore.  I finished the really bad chemo a week ago, and start the not-so-bad chemo next week.

I’m just looking forward to my hair falling out completely, so it can start growing back.

Light – Yea, though I walk through the Valley…

What I didn’t know about cancer was the anxiety, doubt and disdain I would grow & cultivate for the thought of having to endure Chemotherapy.

That, and the fact that I was “over-sedated” according to the Oncologist, is my excuse for being absent from here for so long.

I just finished my second infusion earlier today.  I’m trying to slam out this post before I begin to feel sick again.  For those in the know, I’m on the A/C portion of the A/C/T Chemo regimen.  Basically, that means that because my cancer has no known receptors for either estrogen or progesterone or HER2, that they’re going to go the aggressive “Kitchen Sink” approach to making sure that it doesn’t come back.  Yes, currently, to everyone’s knowledge, I’m cancer-free.  The Chemo is treating/preventing something that may or may not even be there or happen.  And I’ve agreed to it.

Ask me a month ago how I felt about it, and you’d probably see me get nervous and mist up a bit.  I knew that going through it was the prescribed protocol for Triple Negative and BRCA Negative cancers.  My thinking was, as above, “It may or may not even come back, and I need to be 100% healthy NOW!”  You can ask my good friend Bridget.  I confided in her that “I don’t wanna! I don’t wanna! I don’t wanna!”

My good friend Bridget – the best remedy.

One of my problems was that I had a distorted view of my husband’s attitude toward the prospect of Chemo, and that set me down this Path of Most Resistance.  I didn’t want him to feel that his job was in jeopardy because our son requires total care.  I didn’t want him to feel obligated to pick up my portion of the domestic responsibilities.  I didn’t want him to feel financially threatened.  I didn’t want to go through Chemo now.  Men, it takes one tiny misspoken sentence, phrase or word to send a woman down the wrong path of thought.  Be careful.

My biggest problem was that I was stuck in my own head.  The best remedy for getting out of my own head: Time with my good friend.

Bridget called and asked if I wanted to meet her in Reno for the weekend before I started Chemo – somewhere between where I live & where she lives.  Heck, yeah! – to use her words at the suggestion of a previous road trip.

There was light in my tunnel again.

I know what you’re thinking. But it wasn’t a typical “Weekend in Reno”.  Instead of hitting the casinos or a show, we stayed in a step-above-dumpy motel near the airport, then took my rented Fiat 500 and went over to Lake Tahoe.  I had never been, neither had she.  We circumnavigated the Lake (gee, that makes us sound smart and nautical, doesn’t it?).  It was a perfect day.  The car is fun to drive, and Bridget is fun to drive with.  We hadn’t spent time together like that, winging it as far as plans went, since we were much younger and had fewer worries and years between us.  We had Twizzler and our favorite soft drinks, plenty of water, and a lot of other junk in which I don’t usually indulge.  It was GREAT!

A car like the one I rented. The perfect size car for me.

Lake Tahoe on a perfect day, from an almost-perfect view point.

At about 3/4 the way around the Lake, going clockwise, we were driving through Incline Village, and saw a teeny-tiny sign for an estate sale, so took my teeny-tiny car and made a hard left to go check it out.  Amongst the VHS & cd’s of German-esque (I don’t know for sure) music was a table full of lamps.  One in particular caught my eye, and caught Bridget’s eye too.  I moved first and checked out the delicate bronze-ish base, and then the mother-of-pearl-looking glass shade.  I loved it, but didn’t think that David would appreciate me bringing another piece of furniture into our already-full shoe box of a house, without first getting rid of something, and I couldn’t think of anything we could get rid of.  So I encouraged Bridget to check it out.  She loved it too, and, having a not-so-crowded house as I do, she bought it.

“Our” beautiful lamp. (I expect this to be willed to me, Bridg!)

After dinner at a nice place on Saturday evening, and then a movie our husbands don’t want to watch, I came home Sunday afternoon in a much better place than when I left.  I’m 1/2 way done with the “bad” portion of my Chemo, and only complain about it occasionally or when someone will listen.  I’m glad I’m getting it done now instead of later.  I wrote a letter (yes, hand-wrote a letter) to Bridget to thank her for her suggestion, and the results.  And I DO feel better.  Thank you, all my readers(?) for your love, prayers, and good thoughts as well.  They are greatly appreciated!

Port Placement – An Exercise in Lucid Dreaming

ImageIn my high school psychology class, I was encouraged (don’t remember if that was actual or assumed by me) to practice lucid dreaming.  I got pretty good, and have recently realized that that’s when I mostly stopped falling, and started flying.  I LOVE my flying dreams!

I’ve had a total now of 4 surgeries as an adult.  The last one was 7 days ago – the port placement for the impending chemo treatments I’ll be enduring this fall & winter.  For the first 3 surgeries, I have no recollection of “going under”.  I simply could not remember a thing beyond being completely conscious & aware of myself & my surroundings.  So, this last time I applied some techniques for lucid dreaming, only in reverse, I guess, to try to remember what it was like to go out.

I mentioned my not remembering to my Surgeon.  (My Smiling Breast Surgeon happens to be the Go To Guy for port placements in the Area, so I already had a rapport with him and really lucked out in the bargain).  He said to me, “You won’t remember any of this either.”  Wanna bet? I thought to myself.  So I noted the details of the O.R.  Doctor Surgeon standing on my right this time.  Doctor Anesthesiologist (again, the same one I had for the Lumpectomy) calmly talking to me and calling me “Honey”.  The metal “hatch” directly over head on the otherwise acoustic panel ceiling.  Interestingly, this time, I don’t remember the time on the clock the last time I looked at it.  Later, the sensation of falling backwards as Anesthesiologist told me he was giving me something to make me relax – I didn’t remember that last time.  To which I replied, “Ah, so THAT’s why I feel like I’m falling backwards.”  Then either Anesthesiologist or Surgeon mentioning something about the operating table being adjustable.  And then the mask.  Breathing in deep… and out, rather like a sigh.  Several times in.  Several times out.

Again, interestingly, it not only worked, obviously, for the pre-op going out, but also for the post-op waking up.  I remember being visited by both the Surgeon and Anesthesiologist (or maybe they were still there) this time upon regaining consciousness – but not any time previous.

But, I digress.

This port placement, a relatively minor surgery, was a bear from which to recover for me.  Let me show you what happens when you bend the pre-op rules, and take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (ibuprofen, in my case, to be rid of a nausea-inducing headache), a few days prior to a surgeon accessing your jugular and superior vena cava:


Yes, it looks like someone beat me fairly badly.  The photo above is after one or two days.  The bruises hurt WAY worse than the incision sites.


The hardest part was that when I hold Buba, I usually hold him in my left arm, and he’s left handed and likes to “pat” me in the chest, I guess to assure himself that I’m really here, since his vision is variable and not reliable nor predictable.  His “pats” are more like ninja nerve-deadening jabs, and are propelled by a strong child with only moderate ability to modulate his movements.  Ouch.  Ouch = Grumpy Momma.  I mostly just avoided holding him for the weekend, and finally got to the point where I would hold him, only if I had an ice pack in place over the bruises.  Pain, unfortunately, is a very effective teacher.

I’m not sure if it was the bruising or the operation itself, but I felt like I had a kink in my neck for a few days.  The healing hematomas itched like a sunburn, and the tightness of the surgical glue felt like the dying skin that goes along with it.  I had a hard time getting to sleep because I’m a side-lier and usually sleep on my right and THAT hurt. Yep, I was purely miserable for a few days.

A week later, thanks to my ice packing habit, the bruises are all but gone (the lower one is only a yellow stain that has migrated down into my right boob, and the top one is just a little discoloration where it appears the purplest in the photo above).  I feel nearly normal now.

Surgery – Flying High


I’m nearly seven days out of surgery now. Finally not dropping over with sleepiness, and somewhat over not NOT wanting to share, just NOT being able to muster the concentration to sit down & write for awhile and make things make sense. Sense and Good Writing are not guaranteed, but a much better job will be done today, than at anytime previous since the surgery.

We arrived at Not-So-Local Hospital last Friday, the 20th of July, in plenty of time, in rush-hour traffic, with plans for Ms A to get Buba (BOO-bah) off the school bus for us.

Completely by coincidence, arriving in the surgical waiting area shortly after we did, a man whom I instantly pegged as a doctor, though he wasn’t dressed as one, and whom I thought I recognized, walked in with his wife. I talked to David about it, and told him, after thinking for awhile, that it was the doctor who took care of Buba while he was at the NICU at Not-So-Local Children’s Hospital right after he was born. David remembered his last name. I did not. It wasn’t confirmed until a nurse came into the waiting area, and called him by his first name that David & I looked at each other and nodded our confirmation to each other – it was an unusual enough first name, that there was VERY little chance of it being someone else. He was apparently there as a patient for a very short procedure, as I saw him walk out very shortly after I got into my own hospital bed with a view of the hall, and never got a chance to say ‘hi’.

Nurse Vicky helped me prep for surgery, got me into the hospital bed an under the inflated warm-air blanket and walked me through what was going to happen pre-operatively, anyway.

David was able to join me in pre-op shortly after I had my I.V. put into the top of my hand.

It was quite awhile beyond when I was told surgery was going to start, when my Surgeon came out of his previous procedure, to go over what would happen from there on out. He introduced me to the surgical nurse “Cleo”, it actually said “Cleopatra” on her I.D. badge! Then to the anesthesiologist, who is also a nuclear physicist! I had all kinda specially skilled and named people taking care of me.

I was wheeled into the Operating Room about 1.25 hours after I was told it would start, but everything was o.k. This is the first time (after a few other minor procedures) that I remember being awake in the O.R. While in the O.R. I transferred to the operating table, then had inflatable leg-pumping sleeves put on, then was introduced to at least one other guy, but can’t remember his name, nor what his job in there was. My glasses had been taken off before we left my pre-op room, so I wasn’t seeing much very clearly with my highly-astigmatic eyes. What I could see was my Surgeon, standing over me on my left. It seems like he’s always smiling, and his voice and eyes smile, as does his full gray mustache, but that was behind his surgical mask. I remember joking with the anesthesiologist about cocktails, getting a last glance at the clock and being able to tell that it was 11:30 a.m. on the dot and seeing my Surgeon’s smiling eyes.

Then I was waking up.

But… that… was… slow… going…

I was SO sleepy, and the breathing tube they had given me in surgery had made my mouth & throat so dry that it was hard to concentrate long enough to make my mouth form words and get enough air over the vocal cords to make the words audible. Often I just went back to sleep instead.


At shortly before 6 p.m. I felt like I needed to get up & use the restroom. I was able to get up with help, walk slightly wobbly (or wibbly wobbly for the Whovians out there), and not hurl. So, I was ready to be released.

I still had a lot of the anesthesiologist’s “cocktail” going through my system. It made everything funny – myself most of all. I think I’d make a funny drunk if I chose to imbibe. For example, I received a prescription for Vicodin upon release from the hospital, and this is all I could make it be in my mind: Viking Din

This is NOT the Fat Lady Singing


I had no stitches, drains nor bandages over either of my 2 incision sights, just ice packs over surgical glue. On Saturday, I was still feeling the effects of the great drugs I got in the hospital, and we went to the warehouse store & out to dinner.

On Sunday, apparently the effects had worn off, and I have been sleepier than usual since. I had the boob on ice nearly constantly until Tuesday. Since then, mostly just on & off on the sentinel lymph node excision site under my armpit – it gets a lot more chafing there than under the boob where my main incision is.

After nearly 8 hours of a saline drip I.V., I had a bad case of the post-op puffies that lasted for several days, and finally put my wedding rings back on Monday or Tuesday, but took them off at night for another couple of nights, just in case.

The official name for my procedure was “Partial Mastectomy with (some sort of specific kind of) Reconstruction and Intra-Operative Radiation Therapy”

Below the fold are photos of my incisions, if you care to look. Read the rest of this entry »

The Unfeeling Boob – Radiation vs Nuclear

What’s the difference between Radiation Oncology and Nuclear Medicine?  If you confuse the two, as I did this morning, it’s One Numb Boob.

After a week of pre-op, that included not only doctors appointments, but also arranging for people to stay with my son after school, and then cancelling 2/3 of that because of my hubby’s feast/famine work schedule, it’s no wonder that I confused the two.  And it didn’t help that, as helpful as the Surgeon’s office has been, they printed 2 pre-op schedules for me.  One had Nuclear Medicine on it, and I didn’t really look to closely at the other.

I got the call from Radiation Oncology (not realizing that it was NOT the same as Nuclear Medicine) at nearly-nine a.m., as I was getting ready for my day, but still in my pajamas.  I was supposed to be there at 8:30?  Not 11:30?  Hm.  I was VERY confused, but told them I could be there by 10, and proceeded to get ready for my Nuclear Medicine appointment by applying the prescription lidocaine to the “affected area”, and covered it with plastic.  I got dressed, then checked the mass of paperwork I received from the Surgeon’s office and saw that yes, the appointment WAS at 8:30, but the other sheet still said 11:30.  “What a mistake!” I thought.  Oh well, all was fine, since I was able to change the appointment, and make it in plenty of time.

When I arrived at Radiation Oncology, I applied a second dose of the topical anesthetic, as per the instructions.  It wasn’t until the R.O. Doctor asked me why we were having this consult, and I gave the NukeMed answer, did I suspect that I was completely on the wrong track.

As it turned out, I figured out that these were indeed 2 separate appointments, and am SO glad that I had forgotten about the R.O. appointment.  If I had arrived on time to that one, I’d have had to hang out at the Not-So-Local Hospital area for 90 minutes twiddling my thumbs, waiting for my NukeMed appointment.  Not to mention I’d have had to drive in nasty traffic to get to the downtown area during the morning rush hour.  Blech!  It all turned out for the best in that respect.  However, I made it just in time to NukeMed – didn’t even crack the Kimdle.  As I was doing my now-familiar waist-up undressing, I reapplied the lidocaine.  Oh yeah, it was numb now.

Surgery’s tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. Pacific Time.  The Surgeon, besides removing the mass and some surrounding tissue, will find a sentinel node with a Geiger counter and take that to see if the cancer has gotten that far.  (The NukeMed appointment today was to inject radioactive material that will get caught in the sentinel node as the lymphatic system attempts to rid the body of it.)

See you all on the other side.

Switches – Poorly Timed


There are always times in my life when a switch engages in my brain, and I get ‘it’.  ‘It’ becomes understood, second nature, learned, absorbed.  Whatever ‘it’ needs to be, ideally, it becomes.

Most of the time, this switch hits its peak near the time when ‘it’ is nearly over.

Today I felt it.  I was angry beyond reason (nothing to do with cancer, just thoughtlessness of another).  I really felt like going out & kicking the crap out of something.  But, somewhere in my brain I knew what I really wanted to do.  Eat? No.  Nap? No. Get in a great killer spinning workout.  YES!

I actually started to feel it yesterday.  It was nearly bedtime and I was starving!  Meh.  I didn’t even open the fridge to see what might be ‘acceptable’ snacking that time of night.  I just went to bed.  I didn’t even dream about food, as I’m inclined to do when going to bed hungry.

Fortunately my formal spinning class was held today.  Working out helped to alleviate my anger.  I really feel better. Unfortunately, this was the last class I’ll be able to take before my surgery on Friday.

How long is it going to take before I can go back to my class?  How long is it before this need to workout switch turns itself back on?

Hope the answer to both questions is, ‘Not as long as you suspect.’