Tag Archives: surgery

Surgery and Radiation

Surgery and radiation were the final two steps in my treatment program. I have had surgery before (just last summer I blew out my knee), but for some reason this one terrified me. It was a relatively simple procedure. Many women have to have full mastectomies, but I was lucky, the tumor shrank so much that a lumpectomy was all I needed. My surgeon reassured me that I would be in and out of the hospital in half a day. Me? Well, I was still on the, “I’m going to die” wagon and I thought for sure this would be the end of me. HA! I thought every step was the end of me….. so what’s new?

As promised, I was in and out of the hospital the same day. I checked in at 6:00 am and my husband took me home at about 3:00 that same day. I was pretty sore for quite awhile afterward (I still get pain now again and it has been 4 months since surgery), and I was quite swollen and turned all kinds of black and blue. I only have the scar left now. The best news is the removal of the tumor and one lymph node was a success. They had clean parameters and only 5% of the cells had live cancer. Clinically, this is a negative result and I was declared cancer free!

Radiation came next. What an odd experience that was. They had to map the area where I would receive radiation by way of live X-ray and CT scans. I was given six tiny tattoos, each the size of a pin prick. There are three down the center of my chest, one on each side of my chest and one just above my left breast. These were for the technicians to align the radiation machine when I went in for a treatment.

Each visit I lay on a hard table with my arms in stirrups over my head. A huge machine circled over with a buzzing sound starting to my right then circling up, around, and down to my left. In all I lay there for maybe 2 minutes and I was done. Five days a week and 35 visits later I had quite the rectangular sunburn on my breast. Thank goodness for emu oil!

I have now been finished with treatment for over a month and it feels strange to be done. The biggest surprise was how I felt emotionally. I have seen movies about survivors, and I have read many stories too where the survivor has a new lease on life. They have a 360 degree turnaround, and joy pours down from the heavens and lifts their hearts and their lives to new heights. This was not quite so true for me. I have been visiting with a psychologist who specializes in cancer patients and when I told her that I was depressed and wasn’t that thrilled with my life she wasn’t surprised.

Although she wasn’t surprised, I was. It turns out that many cancer patients are actually depressed post-treatment. The way I understand it is that when  patient is given a diagnosis of cancer they go into survival mode that is cranked up full blast until they are finally done. This is when [they/we/I] have a chance to breathe and are able to work through the anxiety, depression, and grief of this illness. Prior to that it is a mind set to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

It is now the end of October 2015. Eleven months have passed since my diagnosis and my life is now moving forward. I still have the chance of my tumor returning, yet I am working to keep that thought from dominating my ability to live, love, and laugh. As my family and I carved pumpkins today I thought about how lucky I am to be sitting at the table with my family. It was wonderfully normal.

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This is the end of Part 4 of a multi-post story. Part 5 (the final installment) will be coming soon!

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Make a difference by donating to your charity of choice. Support the fight against Breast Cancer!

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Decisions for the Rest of My Life

After all the poking and prodding, the diagnosis was not the best news. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. The good news; this is the most common type of breast cancer and a lot is known about it. The bad news; “triple negative” and aggressive. Triple Negative means that there are no hormonal influences that produced the tumor so I could not receive non-chemo treatment. How aggressive? On a scale of 1-4 (4 being the most aggressive) mine was a 3.

My research began in earnest. I read cancer blogs, articles, research papers, and watched videos about the benefits of traditional medicine vs alternative medicine. In a short week I felt I knew more about breast cancer than I would have otherwise learned in a normal lifetime.

I really only had two choices for treatment. (Well, actually three choices, but the “doing nothing and dying” was immediately taken off the table for discussion. I had too much living left to do.) I could follow an alternative path by making extreme changes in my life choices (a strict, and extreme diet change along with intense daily exercise) and the chance that the cancer would stabilize or even go away (also a chance it would continue to grow). Or, I could follow the doctor’s recommendation of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation treatments. I had very little time to make a decision.

Both sides of the argument were convincing. On the one side I could change everything about my lifestyle (eating, sleeping, exercise and diet). The experts said that this approach shifts the Ph balance in the body to make it a toxic environment for cancer to survive. There is science to support alternative medicines and lifestyle changes. I read about several people who have kept their cancer under control with these aggressive changes. Yet, the alternative route was a little frightening to me. What if it didn’t work? What if the cancer spread and I faced a more grim prognosis? Could I really make that extreme of a change in my lifestyle?

On the flip side was chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation which are strongly supported by science, yet the side effects aren’t pretty. These highly toxic treatments do kill the invading cells, but I ran the risk of having side effects that could pop up anytime in my life. First, it might not work, or it might only have partial success. Then there is the possibility of secondary cancers from the radiation, or the side effects of the chemo could be debilitating. Not to mention the inherent dangers in any type of surgery.

 I was depressed, in shock, and horribly confused. I had no clue what to do. Both arguments had pluses and minuses. My husband and I talked endlessly about what to do and we found ourselves returning to the same place of indecision. One evening, I talked at length with a practitioner of acupuncture and Chinese Medicine. He shared his professional experiences with me at length. Then, he shared one final thought with me and it went something like this, “I have treated many, many patients with cancer. I helped them follow the alternative treatments as well as the traditional treatments with acupuncture and herbal remedies. To be brutally honest with you, the only ones alive today are the ones who followed the traditional treatments. Everyone else is dead.”

My decision was made. On December 23, 2014, I began my journey down the long road of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation.

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This is the end of Part 2 of a multi-post story. Part 3 will be coming soon.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Make a difference by donating to your charity of choice. Support the fight against Breast Cancer!

breast-cancer-ribbon

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Filed under Breast Cancer, My Cancer Story