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Archive for the ‘cancer’ Category

36 days later

Yes, it’s been 36 days since my last radiation treatment!  There are days that I don’t think much about having gone through the whole experience…..then other days the mirror is a grim reminder of what I lived through.

I had a followup appointment with Dr. Radiation today.  Everything checked out fine.  I have some discoloration of the skin in some places and “scars” where the burns were the worst.  Dr. Radiation said it could take up to a year for all that to disappear but it WOULD go away.!

One of the nurses that got me started and walked me through the whole process is leaving to follow her husband’s job change (to Pennsylvania).  I really don’t know what I would have done without her.  She did everything she could to keep me going back and to ease the pain and discomfort.  I asked if she was going to work and yes, she is still going to be a nurse, helping cancer patients.  They will be lucky to have her.  She told me one of the interview questions she had to answer was “What is your greatest accomplishment (in her job)” …and yes….it was getting ME through the treatment.  My burns were so bad (she said I was up in the upper range of “bad”) there were times I didn’t want to come back.  She kept giving me different things to try to ease the pain. And hugged me when all I could do was cry.

When she told me that story…..I became emotional.  I guess being back in that place…remembering how horrible it was at the end….and how compassionate everyone was….just brings all those emotions back to the surface.  I guess I bury myself in the NOW so that I don’t wallow in the THEN.  But I never want to forget what it was like….that I fought HARD so life would be normal again.

There is still a bit of swelling that will go away over time.  The scars and discoloration will fade as well.  The surgical scars will always be there but they are fading too.  Life moves on and I’m happy to have a life that’s moving forward.

Thank you God, for all the people you sent my way!

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In a word….I’m REALLY GOOD!!  (ok that was 2 words…..LOL)

It has been so fun to celebrate, not only the completion of my treatment, but also, getting back to “normal”.  I’ve had some wonderful friends who have treated me to some wonderful meals and lots of laughter.

As I’ve been looking back, I realized that my yearly mammogram was Sept. 6, a 2nd mammogram 2 weeks later followed by the biopsy and finally the diagnoses of breast cancer on September 28.  After that was surgery, and finally treatment.  Everything happened in a matter of 4.5 months…..18 weeks.  WOW!!!  No wonder my life felt like a whirlwind!  At times I was really impatient….wanting Doctors to hurry things along….wishing the healing was faster.  My good friend, Jayma, a colon cancer survivor, kept telling me it would all happen at the right time.  She was SO right…and I’m thankful she was there to remind me…often.

The last week and a half of treatment was rather brutal.  I ended up at home and in bed for 6 days.  And I’m thankful that my Mom could stay with me for a few days.  I couldn’t have made it without her.

It’s been 2 weeks (and 2 days….to be exact) since my last treatment and I’m happy to say that I feel REALLY GOOD!  All the burns have healed over.  The skin is still healing but I can wear clothes and don’t have to use the stinky salve anymore!  I’m beginning to be myself at school again.  Even my students have noticed!  My sense of humor is returning….just ask my 7th grade girls choir…..who taught me how to “Dougie” yesterday.  I was pretty bad but we all had a good laugh and that felt sooooooo good!!!!

I’ve started my “boot camp” workout again….sort of.  My friend, Steve, who is my trainer, is only allowing me to walk.  The first time we met (last Friday) I tried to convince him to let me do a bit more than walk…..he refused.  So I agreed to “just walk” for 20 minutes.  By the time we finished I was literally dragging my feet.  I hated to admit that he was right.  He’s been very protective of me…and I appreciate it.  I’m following his instructions and I’m feeling stronger each week.  Maybe by the end of the February I can start lifting weights again!

I feels wonderful to regain my strength, both physically and mentally!!!

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Time to Celebrate…Come On!

Friday, after school, my school family had a celebration for me and another teacher who finished her cancer treatments this week also.  What a surprise!!!!

They gave each of us a basket with all sorts of goodies inside!

 

I didn’t look at anything until I got home…..I was just overwhelmed….

 

It seemed to be an never-ending basket of love!

There was….candy, snacks, YARN, coasters, embroidered visor and ‘certificate’, mugs, gift cards, lotions, bath gels, candle, cards, journals, devotional book……WOW!!!

 

I think what I like most is that I have no idea who gave me what….It’s just a big hug in the shape of a basket of goodies!  It was fun seeing some of the things in the basket and knowing that someone who knows me well, gave me this!

I have the most AMAZING school family and I’m very thankful for their love and support!

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Just Imagine…..

As much as the Doctors and Nurses try to prepare you for the side effects of radiation…..there’s just really no way to really know until you experience it.  Nothing like first hand knowledge!

(just know that I have resisted posting the pics I took….was afraid some of my friends would have weak stomachs!  LOLOL)

 

So….imagine that you were on a beach…of a lake or ocean…your choice….and only half of your chest was exposed.  Now….stay in the sun for several days,…..with the sun gathering intensity each day.  At first, you don’t really notice any difference….except of course….for the swelling that happens ON THE INSIDE……

Ok….now….as the sun beams gather intensity……day after day after day…..you begin to notice your skin turning pink….no big deal really….except NOW you have these funny red bumps that ITCH…and I mean ITCH!!! (it’s called folliculitis).  So….the nurse tells you about some cream to purchase in the special pharmacy at the cancer clinic.  IT WORKS….It stops the itch, relieves some of the tenderness and makes things livable. But the bumps seem to move across your chest…..thankfully, once that follicle has erupted, it can’t erupt again…..thank goodness!

Just as you are adjusting to dealing with the itching issue, then comes the BLISTERS….In a most uncomfortable place!  It just HURTS…all the time.  It hurts when you touch it, it hurts when your undergarments touch it, it hurts if you don’t wear undergarments…..it just HURTS!  (at this point I was ready to throw in the towel)  So the nurse gives me samples of a stick to your skin, removable, cut to fit foam pad.  Ahhhhhh!!!!!  what a relief!  It still hurts when you have to touch the blisters but at least it keeps the undergarments from rubbing and causing more pain.  When I complained about the pain….the nurse gave me a sample of a plastic square that has some sort of gel on one side.  You place it against the burned skin and it relieves the pain and cools the skin.  It is very helpful.

And the sun intensity continues….

JUST when you adjust to dealing with the itch AND the pain AND the rubbing of clothing…..THEN comes the most painful part of all……the sunburned armpit.  Which in reality has and is the most painful of all.  (BTW on treatment days I’m not allowed to wear deodorant….just corn starch…seems to work just fine!)  Oh…Don’t forget that your chest has since turned a deep pink/red like a really bad sunburn.  The skin on the chest is not painful to touch…but the swelling and tenderness continues.  I think what magnifies the pain in the armpit is a mole that sits just outside the armpit and has turned dark and crispy.  OH MY how it hurts.  But the skin (and an incision site from the removal of lymph nodes that sits inside the armpit) is SOOOOOOOO tender and painful to the slightest touch.  In fact, I found myself sleeping with my arm above my head just to relieve the pain.  NONE of the creams I’ve gotten so far have done anything to relieve the pain.  I think I’ll try the gel thing….see if it helps.  The pain in the armpit has gotten worse…even with the weekend of no treatments…..just CAN’T WAIT for the last three treatments of the whole area!!!!  It’s gonna feel SO good…..ugh….

oops…sorry…So NOW….your skin is dark pink, it hurts EVERYWHERE and it’s painful to do things like WEAR CLOTHES! Oh…and your “tan lines” make a lovely SQUARE on your chest…..niiiiice….   What a great day on the beach…huh??

I have 8 treatments left.  3 for the whole breast and 5 of what they call the boost which targets just the incision site.  They tell me that once they begin the boosts then the other skin has a chance to begin healing.  I hope they are correct…

NOW you have an up close and personal idea of what it’s like to go through radiation treatment for breast cancer………welcome to my world!  : )

 

 

 

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Just an update…

I went back and looked and noticed I had not updated the Dr. appt. information for a bit and I have GOOD news!

Dr. Oncologist had a test run on my tumor to see if I would benefit from chemo.  The test was rather expensive but gives the dr. a lot of good information.  It’s called the Oncotype DX (and if you’re wondering, it was over $4000….I know….crazy huh!?!?!)

Well, just before Thanksgiving, the results came back that I would NOT benefit from chemo and could then get started on radiation.  I did not get to see Dr. Oncologist until after Thanksgiving but when I did he thoroughly went over the test results and gave me several pages with all sorts of colored charts and graphs!  The results are split into 3 categories, No benefit, a BIG maybe category and, definite benefit from chemo.  The no benefit cut off score was 18 or lower, I came in at a strong 13…..no question, NO CHEMO!!!!

This test also gives a prognosis of reoccurence.  It said if I took the drug tomoxifen (an estsrogen blocker) for 5 years, then the chance of reoccurence would be 8%!!!!!  That’s amazing!  but it gets better.  It seems the test has not kept up with the current drug therapys and Dr. Oncology says that the drug he prescribed me (can’t remember the name, haven’t had the script filled yet, and can’t read his dr. scribble handwriting) is even better and should drop that 8% at least 2-3 %.  Now that is AMAZING and WONDERFUL!

As of this morning, I am exactly halfway through the radiation treatment.  I’ve had little to no reactions (other than pink skin) up until now.  But now there are places that are super itchy and some that look like a bright red rash and over all, my breast is super sore and tender.  I have a tan “box”…..square.  As my principal told me before it all started….I would have one side that was ready for a nude beach and one side that wasn’t…..how true she was!

Jan. 18 is scheduled to be my last radiation appt.  I’m fortunate to have had some long weekends in the middle part of the treatment.  It gives my skin time to heal.  I’m afraid to think what it would have been without the extra time.  They say it will take about 6 weeks for my skin to return to normal.  I’m not sure I remember what ‘normal’ is anymore.

I saw Dr. Surgeon this week for a 3-month checkup.  He was pleased with the healing of the incisions and thought things looked great considering the radiation treatment.  I have to see him at least one more time 6 months from now.  Hopefully that will be the last visit to Dr. Surgeon.  I’m looking forward to the day that I can only have 2 doctors in speed dial instead of 5!

 

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Thoughts from my brain today….

When I found out I had cancer…and began telling my closest friends and family most reacted as I did……shocked.  But they also were incredibly compassionate, kind and wonderfully supportive.  Then as the people outside my inner circle began finding out….I had some interesting reactions.  Most were as I mentioned, kind and compassionate.  As the saying goes, There’s one (or more) in every crowd” and I have found it to be true in this situation.

I KNOW that I was extremely fortunate to have my cancer found so early, I KNOW that I’m extremely fortunate that my cancer was easily treated and not life threatening, I KNOW that I’m fortunate to still have both breasts and all my hair.  There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t say a prayer of thanks for all these things.

But I have to say……when you are told you have cancer….your life changes….drastically.  Is a lumpectomy better than a mastectomy?  sure but it’s still surgery and someone is still cutting into my body and removing things.  Is radiation less dramatic physically than chemotherapy? Sure…no question….but I still have to schedule my life around my daily treatments for weeks and my body is still reacting to the treatment….not really a walk in the park.  Am I still able to work through all of this….well, yes, I still showed up to work everyday…but I can’t say that I was focused on my job like I normally would be.  My student’s performance at the Christmas concert is a grim reminder of what I HAVEN’T accomplished with them this year…and I feel guilty….everyday.

So when someone you know, and/or love says “I have cancer” (of ANY KIND) please, be kind, compassionate and supportive.  Don’t down play their life changing experience.  We all react differently…..just accept what they tell you with love for them.  Don’t compare them to other friends and relatives that have had the same or similar experiences.  Don’t think that their looking and acting strong is really how they feel inside. (personally, I’m just a blink away from tears most of the time….just don’t allow them to fall too often).  Just…..hug them and love them….please….

 

(I think I feel and little better now……ahhhhh….)

 

 

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Just a glimmer….

I’m beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I started radiation treatments on Tuesday.  I have 30 total…..and I’ve finished 3 as of today!  The nurses, technicians and staff at the center are just awesome.  So kind, compassionate and caring.  It makes having to go everyday so much easier.  The best part is that they have free valet parking…which I have used when it was really, really cold.  I plan to use it whenever the weather is bad.

Wednesdays are the long days.  After the treatment (which I failed to mention only lasts about 10 minutes) I have to check in with Dr. Radiation to just be sure everything is going ok.  And after 3 treatments, everything is OK.  I’ve been told that the skin reactions are supposed to show up after a couple of weeks.  I don’t think it will take my skin that long…..it’s already starting to be uncomfortable.

Each day is one day closer to being finished.  I’m looking forward to Christmas Break when I don’t have to get up and get dressed until the afternoon treatment!

 

 

 

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