Tuesday, May 27, 2008

First Post Treatment Mammogram

I had my first post treatment mammogram today.

I managed to keep a lid on my anxiety until we actually got in the car and headed up to the doctor’s office. I started to get nervous then. Uncomfortably, constantly feel like you have to pee kind of nervous. We drove the twenty minutes to the doctor’s office (during the drive, the song that I listened to on the way to my mammogram last year randomly came up on my iPod, we both superstitiously reached over to change it to a new song as fast as we could - spooky), and I filled out all the paperwork and gave my co-pay and waited in the lobby. I brought a book on chanting with me in hopes that I would find it soothing. I did.

After I was all checked in, I had to walk across the hall to the imaging center. Everything in there was pink. I bought $5 worth of pink ribbon temporary tattoos. I’ll wear some of course, but I wanted to have some to give out to my friends too.

Getting the mammogram was as uncomfortable as I anticipated. The breast that was radiated is sensitive (my surgeon says that it will always be that way) so smushing it was pretty unpleasant. Clearly, I’ve been through worse though! The lady who took the films was really terrific and the one time that I said it really was too uncomfortable, she made adjustments that made it much easier to tolerate.

The hardest part was sitting alone in the little waiting room with my exam gown still on waiting for them to check the films. That about had me on the ceiling. My purse and stuff was all locked up in a little locker, so I had nothing to do but thumb through the pile of magazines and breast cancer support literature. Ugh.

Then they led me back to my surgeon’s office for my exam and results (yes they read the results right away – I’m so relieved that I didn’t have to wait for days). The mammogram looked GREAT, my breast exam was also great! She does not want to see me for another year! I still have to see chemo guy every three months because someone needs to keep an eye on me, but I don’t need another mammogram for a year.

I’m so relieved that I want to dance around, drink some wine and take a nap all at the same time.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


I was diagnosed last year, on May 4. I celebrated Mother's Day in a fog of fear since I was having a lumpectomy the next day. By the end of the month, I had a portacath installed and had my first chemo scheduled.

So, I am a year away from the start of going through breast cancer.

What does it feel like? Well, mentally, I still think of it often. Daily. Probably many times a day. When I think of it, I usually start with a mental wince and I begin to remember just how scary and miserable it was. I'm not happy with my attitude though, so I try to pretty quickly take control of my thoughts and steer them toward gratitude for the treatments that saved my life, and a feeling of victory since I faced all that and I'm still here. But it is hard, it takes mental discipline on my part to concentrate on the positives. I wish I was better at that. I think it would be more healthy for me if my memories of it were fiesty, or grateful, not sad and scared.

Physically, I still have a fair amount going on. My legs bruise very easily. I pretty much have a bruise or two all the time. My legs also hurt. Tamoxifen can cause you to retain water and I'm guessing that is the problem because my legs often feel "inflated" and like the skin is going to split. It is a very uncomfortable sensation. There are times when I can't sit still because of it.

I have put on 10 pounds. I have confidence that I will either lose it, or accept it, one or the other. But for now it is an annoying reality because my clothes don't fit right and I feel pudgy.

I still have hot and cold flashes. Often. This week, I was training in a very hot classroom in a hospital in Montreal. So hot that on the coolest day, the chocolate bar that was on my desk was completely liquified by 10 in the morning. When I hot flashed, I pretty much felt like a Phoenix - I was going up in flames for sure. It is also difficult to be in front of a class, thinking on your feet, responding to questions and ideas, talking and teaching for hours while you break into a wave of sweat from time to time. It is distracting, exasperating and embarrassing.

They still wake me up too. While I am undoubtedly sleeping much better than I was at this time last year, I still wake up many times a night. Usually due to either a hot flash or a cold flash.

I think my continued physical discomfort and lack of sleep it also a contributing factor to the darkness of my attitude. I am not the sunny person that I was before this. I don't break into song and dance like I once did, I don't joke and laugh as much. On the upside, I also don't get as worried about many things. I used to be afraid to fly. Now I'm not. Compared to what I've been through, getting on a plane is a piece of cake. I used to get very nervous before a class that I was going to teach and before big projects. Now I don't. I just show up and do what I'm supposed to do - I don't waste mental energy worrying about it before hand.

I have a big milestone coming up. My first post treatment mammogram. I am unsuccessfully trying not to dread it. I dread it for the obvious reason - what a reminder and what if they find something? But I'm also dreading it because the affected breast is still tender. The thought of squishing it between two sheets of glass literally makes me feel ill.

My portacath scar is still very evident. Many of my tops and dresses show it. I don't make any effort to hide it. It has not faded much yet - my other scars look much less obvious. I didn't have my portacath removed until late October, so I'm sure this scar will fade and become less noticeable in time too. I try to see it as a badge of courage, or a milestone, much like the scar my mother had at the base of her throat from having a thyroid tumor removed. But mostly, I have to admit, I still see it as a grim reminder.

My hair is about three inches long. It looks shorter, of course because it is still so curly. The curl is starting to relax some. My hair is also much darker than it used to be. I am letting it grow out, and I'm very interested to see what it does as it gets longer.

I am starting to be able to dance much like I used to. I went to the last Second Saturday dance and danced all but one dance, and I only missed that one because I volunteered to work the cash box at the door. I danced for pretty much three hours straight at high intensity. I kept up with everyone - mentally in terms of being able to remember the combinations for each dance, and physically. That was wonderful!

So, yes, I have much to celebrate since a year has come and gone. The problem is that I just can't feel like celebrating.

I've heard that Tamoxifen can affect your mood and I need to take this stuff for 4 more years. I am trying to be understanding and patient with myself.

Sometimes, I am truly tempted to stop taking it. I have to remind myself that I went through the hell of chemo for only a 4% increase in my survival chances. Tamoxifen increases my chances by more like 4o%. So while it is difficult, uncomfortable and long term, it is still worth it.