Tag Archive | fear

One Year

A year ago today I was at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia having surgery for my breast cancer recurrence. It’s so hard to believe it’s been a year already. 2020 was one of those years that flies by and feels like like 100 years at the same time. So much has happened in the world that this anniversary wasn’t even on my radar until I was updating my 2021 calendar.

David and I had gone down to Philadelphia the day before, trying to enjoy ourselves for a bit and enjoy a nice dinner before I had to start fasting. The day of surgery included a whole lot of hurry up and wait, as we waited about 4 hours or so before things got started. Having a procedure done at a big teaching hospital is a very different experience than our local hospital, including lots of attention from nurses, anesthesiologists, residents, and surgeons. I did have two surgeons for this event – the oncology surgeon removed the cancer, and the plastic surgeon made everything look pretty.

The surgery went much longer than planned because they found more breast tissue than they expected. The plastic surgeon had expected to do a simple liposuction and remove the excess skin, but the prior surgeon had left behind 1-2″ of actual tissue. I wrote at the time that my Penn surgeons were shocked and horrified by this, but since that time, I am finding that it is more and more common. Most surgeons are in there to just remove the cancer, and that’s it. This makes no sense to me, especially when you ask and expect a specific result, AND especially when you are having a prophylactic breast removal. If there’s no cancer in it, how does the surgeon decide how much to take? All I can say is, if you ever need a mastectomy and expect a certain result without reconstruction, definitely go to a big city hospital and make sure you get someone who understands what you want.

Some day I may be brave enough to share before and after photos on this page, but not yet. I know women who share pictures very comfortably, but every time I think about it, I chicken out. Right now, my chest is enormously improved (and flatter) than after my first surgery. The only thing that takes some getting used to is that my rib cage is pretty exposed on my right side (the cancer side). To ensure I had clear margins, the surgeon was extra cautious and removed as much as she could. Now I basically have a rib cage with some skin over it. There’s not much, if any tissue, in between. So sometimes I freak out, thinking it’s a lump, and then I trace it and go “ok, it’s a rib! Whew.”

Following my surgery, I had drains to care for at home for a few weeks, a most uncomfortable situation. But outside of that, I am grateful that I did not require chemotherapy or radiation. I am just on my daily dose of Aromasin for 5-10 years. So far, the side effects are completely manageable.

So January 21, 2020, I restarted my clock. One year down.

The longer you can go cancer free, the better. I made it 7+ years after the first go-round. I’d love to break that record, and then some. But the fear is always lurking.

At dinner the night before my surgery in Philly. (City Tavern)

IMDb: One Year (2010)

Mixed Feelings

Surgery is just two days away and I want to thank all of you who have called, texted, FB messaged, sent a card or positive vibes, taken me to lunch/coffee, and/or prayed for me these past several weeks. It’s such a great feeling to have such a wonderful tribe of friends and family to get me through the dark times.

As people check in, the most common question I get is some variation of “how are you doing?”  A very fair and caring question. To be honest, it changes by the moment. I try to keep busy and feel like I’m going through some weird form of nesting — cleaning and organizing and purging… anything to keep my mind off the impending surgery.

As you can imagine, surgery comes with anxiety. Any time you are under anesthesia, with someone cutting your body with sharp instruments, it’s never wracking. I worry more about the anesthesia than the scalpels, for some reason. It’s that whole lack of control. One minute you’re chatting with the OR staff and then *poof*. You wake up hours later without a clue as to what happened. It’s just freaky. On the plus side, I’m ready to have this cancer out of my body.

Having cancer is scary. Having cancer for the third time is downright petrifying. So, yeah, there’s a lot of fear going on. The fear isn’t limited to “am I going to die this time?”, but includes worrying about the results of the surgery, as well. Will I have range of motion issues, will I be satisfied with the plastic surgeon’s work, what will they find when they cut me open, how big will the tumor be, what if it’s spread after these few months…? Lots of things to keep me up at night. And it doesn’t help that they ask you to bring your advanced directive with you to the surgery…

On the flip side, I am grateful. So very grateful for my amazing tribe. Grateful I am pretty healthy (what irony!) and should get through through everything just fine. Grateful for the means to be able to go out of network, allowing me to have two surgeries in one. Grateful for all the blessings in my life.

I am feeling confident in my surgical team. I’m positive for the things to come and I’m energized and re-committed to 100% healthy living. (Moderation is a danger concept.) I’m ready for battle and looking forward to good times in 2020.

It’s a mixed bag of emotions, for sure. Fear. Anxiety. Relief. Gratitude. Determined.

Thanks for asking!

 

IMDb: Mixed Feelings (1995)

The Sisterhood

The world is a little darker today. A little sadder. Today I learned of the passing of one of my sisters in breast cancer, a dear colleague and friend.

When I was going through treatment for breast cancer in 2012, she was receiving treatment for a recurrence. We were just weeks apart in our treatment, although it was clearly more difficult for her the second time around. Yet when she returned to work, my sister was her energetic, positive self, and was ready to take on the world.

We often talked to each other about our post-treatment care. Naturalists, supplements, stress management, nutrition, sleep. We talked about all of it, while admiring each others’ locks as our hair grew in. We debated the issue of aromatase inhibitors for months on end and both decided to take a pass after dealing with unbearable side effects. Each meeting was full of hugs, support, and encouraging words.

Stress management was always a big topic because she attributed her two cancer diagnoses to preceding periods of high stress.  We checked in on each other regularly and lectured one another when we seemed to be taking on too much.

Fast forward almost 3 years since we finished treatment. Life became more “normal”, our regular interactions became less common, and the quarterly meetings on our calendars got bumped for some other “priority”. I hadn’t spoken to her in months, never thinking I’d never have another chance to do so.

While I do not know the details of her death, based on some of the sketchy tidbits thus far, I have no doubt that cancer played a part.  This time Cancer would not take no for an answer, and he was swift in taking her from us.

So many people called and messaged, or came to visit me today, to make sure I was ok. One call came from another of my sisters…one who most recently made the journey through diagnosis and initial treatment. She asked me if it ever gets easier as time goes on… Do you ever stop living in fear?

I told her that I try to find the balance between being complacent as time goes on and being scared all the time. I don’t want to be so complacent that I forget to take care of myself.  I don’t want to take any day for granted.  But I also don’t want to be so afraid that I forget to live and enjoy my life. I wish I could say I have that balanced nailed down, but I don’t. And days like today tend to tip me into fear. If it could happen to her, after doing so many of the same things I have been doing, then who’s to say it can’t happen to me?

So let this be our reminder. To manage our stress and walk away from the drama. To nourish our bodies with healthy food. To get enough sleep. To avoid toxins. To drink lots of pure water. To care for ourselves. To find time for those we love.

But mostly let it be a reminder to live life to the fullest, to spread joy to those around you, and to love greatly. You never know when you’ll lose the chance to do that.

Rest in Peace, my friend.

IMDb: Sisterhood (2015)

 

Cape Fear

As a two time winner of the cancer lottery (two unrelated cancers), the fear of getting cancer again is part of my daily existence.  With every ache or pain, every bruise, every symptom, I can’t but wonder if it’s cancer-related.  I realize this sounds a bit paranoid, and it probably is.  But I would be lying if I didn’t say that the thoughts of another cancer scares the shit out of me.

The thought of cancer is always with me.  It’s there with every morsel of food or drink that I put in my mouth.  (Is it a healthy choice?)  It’s there with every movement that hurts and reminds me of the side effects.  It is there every time I look at my son and I wonder if I will get to see him grow to be a man.  I know that’s not a guarantee for any of us, but there’s a greater awareness of mortality when you have to face cancer head on.

This past week has been harder for me than usual, for some reason.  There are the ongoing Femara side effects which seem to accumulate after a period of time (prompting me to take a break).  I am in some form of pain always.  There are those UTI symptoms, with a negative UTI lab result.  There’s the headache that has persisted a few days this week, and pain that shoots from my right shoulder blade down to my fingers.  All this pain starts to get to you after a while.  How do you know what’s “just” a side effect, what’s something normal (sinus infection, stress, etc.), and what’s something that you really need to pay attention to?  For me, I guess I need to pay attention to all of it, but it’s exhausting.  In the absence of solid answers from the medical community, I spend a lot of time reading and Googling and chatting with others in the same boat trying to make sense of it on my own.  This is good and bad.  Sometimes I find an article that makes me feel relieved; other times I find something that scares me.  But I want to be on my guard and can’t wait to see my doctors to get answers.

Maybe over time my paranoia will subside.  I sure hope it does, as I think it would drive me crazy after a while.  I don’t want to forget it, as the cancer perspective allows you to look at life differently and to appreciate the little things.  It’s the fear that also drives me to do all the healthy things I can for my body.  I don’t want to get complacent or lose that fighting instinct.

A friend posted the following prayer on Facebook tonight and the timing is so perfect.  I have been praying for healing in a multitude of ways.  Loved this one!  (Thanks, Beth!)

New recipe tonight… Roasted Cabbage.  It sounded a lot better than it was.  Maybe it was because I excluded the bacon bits!  🙂  I’m trying to increase my cruciferous vegetables, but this wasn’t the way to do it.

Cape Fear (1991) – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0101540/