Life after Breast Cancer: New Normal Part 2

Radiation Fibrosis. What the hell is that? I actually just learned myself. In February, I had started noticing that my left side ached and my left arm had lost a lot of mobility.

From About.com/Breast Cancer

Definition: Fibrosis is the formation of scar tissue. Fibrosis can occur as a result of radiation treatments. While radiation is being given, it affects cancer cells and healthy tissue that is nearby. In healthy tissue, small blood vessels in the area may be damaged or sealed off. When this happens, the affected tissue no longer gets enough nourishment. Radiated healthy tissue may then “fibrose” or scar. That scar tissue will feel firm or may feel like a mass or even like a recurrence of cancer. Fibrosis may also occur naturally in breast tissue that has fibrocystic changes.

In a serendipitous moment in early February, a lovely woman at work who also happens to be a breast cancer survivor asked me if I had started my physical therapy yet for my arm. Physical therapy? She had experienced the same discomfort and loss of mobility and swore by the physical therapy.

So, after contacting my breast surgeon at the urging of my coworker, I was put in contact with a physical therapist that specialized in post-radiation trauma and lymphedema. Man, I’m glad I made that call.

But, as helpful as these sessions have been, they have been a bit uncomfortable.. Let me back up a bit. Last summer, I got used to every Tom, Dick and Mary marking on, taking pictures of, feeling, smashing and viewing my jubblies. Since then, my modesty has returned intact. Returned just in time for new weirdness to begin.

Why are the sessions weird? Essentially, twice a week I’ve been receiving a breast massage. What’s not to like about a breast massage, right? Um, it’s not sensual. Have you ever had a deep tissue massage? Twice a week I get a deep tissue massage on my boob, armpit and side. It hurts like hell.

Ladies, I know you know how uncomfortable a pap smear is. That awkward chat with your OBGYN doctor about your weekend plans trying to ignore the fact that she’s examining your hooha? What if that moment lasted three times as long?

With my physical therapy sessions, the massage part lasts about twenty to twenty-five minutes. That’s A LOT of awkward conversation to be had. Sometimes I run out of things to say. For those that know me well, that may come as a shock. However, for me, the silence is worse than the rambling chatter so I ramble. On and on and on.

My poor therapist. She sure is a good listener. Do I owe her a parting gift? I mean, I’ve been seeing her intimately for two months now. Is there protocol for our eventual good-bye?

Aside from the awkwardness, the treatments have helped me tremendously and I’m so glad my coworker repeatedly urged me to make that call. My husband said  “What if you hadn’t called your breast surgeon?” I don’t want to think about it – it’s made that much of a difference.

My new normal is a pill box (I didn’t think that would happen for another twenty years), daily stretches and strengthening exercises, doctor appointments with my medical oncologist every six weeks, mammograms every six months and appointments once year with my radiation oncologist. I’m working on accepting my new normal because, as it was brought to my attention the other day, it’s better than the alternative.

I do look forward to the day when breast cancer isn’t always on my mind.

Eventually, that day will get here.

 

 

 

 

Life after Breast Cancer: A New Normal

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My brain is stuck. That’s why I haven’t been writing. My brain is swirling with ideas, but it can’t seem to land on anything. Writing has become h-a-r-d. I think I spelled that correctly.

I had to sound it out. (That’s normal, right?).

If you have been a follower of this blog, you know that I was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer. June 24th to be exact (the day after my birthday). Last year was a helluva year to say the least.

My course of treatment was a lumpectomy and seven weeks of daily radiation. Woohoo. I was also lucky enough to find out that my cancer was hormone positive. I’m kind of being serious here. Hormone positive breast cancers are easier to treat than hormone negative breast cancers. Why is this important?

With hormone positive breast cancer, Tamoxifen is the recommended course of treatment – one pill everyday for five years. Unfortunately, there are serious side effects to be considered. I was given the prescription in early December and had it for thirty days before I made my decision. After visiting multiple chat rooms, viewing multiple web sites, and discussing it with friends, I decided to try it. A fellow breast cancer survivor said to me, “Jenni, why wouldn’t you want to try anything to prevent getting breast cancer again?” I couldn’t argue with that.

There are a TON of side effects with this drug. The couple that seem to be plaguing me the most are chemo brain and hot flashes.

The hot flashes were to be expected. Not to be too TMI-ish, but I had a total hysterectomy (with ovary removal) after my radiation treatment and that surgery puts a women into surgical menopause, like immediately. This drug seems to make them a bit more intense. Menopause, Schmenopause.

What in the holy hell is the evolutionary reason for hot flashes? I mean, really?! Was it to signal eligible bachelors that you weren’t available for procreation, but were available for recreation? There had to be a better way. Just sayin’.

The “chemo brain” is a whole other story. I started taking Tamoxifen in January and after two weeks, I noticed a SERIOUS decrease in my brain function. My kids and my hubs can back me up on this. My brain WAS a steel trap. I NEVER forgot anything. ANYTHING. That was my most annoying/endearing trait (probs mostly endearing).

Not anymore.

Since I’ve been on this drug, I feel like I’m in a fog. I want to talk, but can’t think of words. They’re there floating in front of me, but I can’t reach them. In mid-sentence, I forget what I’m saying and can’t finish a thought. I want to comment on the stories of the day, but they become vague wisps of memories even though I just read them that day. I used to be analytical (I was a math major), and now I struggle with parsing an article.

I’ve become someone I’m unfamiliar with:

  • I almost went to the store in my slippers. Thankfully, they didn’t feel quite right on the garage floor.
  • I’ve gotten to work without my laptop (way more than once). By the way, it’s impossible to do my work without a computer.
  • I’ve gotten to work and realized I forgot my make-up. Not a big deal? What do you know! I’m 48 years old! Make-up is necessary!!!
  • I’m easily distracted like a toddler. Ooooh. Shiny penny……..
  • I’m unable to focus and I think it’s affecting my work (Shhh…….)
  • I described to my daughter what I was feeling and she said, “It sounds like when I was suffering from my concussion.” Great. A concussion that lasts five years.

In addition to my addled brain, I also have been diagnosed with radiation fibrosis.

Yesterday a friend checked in with me to see how I was doing. After I explained what was happening, she aptly reminded me that even though my new normal was frustrating, it was better than the alternative. That is absolutely hard to argue with.

Wait. What? Radiation fibrosis, you say? Check out my next post.

 

 

Too Old to Sumo Wrestle

“Babe, let’s do it. Let’s wrestle each other.”

Shake of the head (no).

“Come on, p-l-e-a-s-e?”

“No.”

A silent “fine” from moi.

The picture to the left is of my daughters getting ready to rumble (this family party occurred sometime over the summer). Isn’t that a great picture? Don’t they look like they are ready to have some F-U-N?

This seemed to be a pivotal moment for me. I thought, “What just happened? Are we really too old to have goofy fun?  Really?”

Is this going to be the rest of my life? No more goofy fun? Just boring middle-age whatever?

The incident made me sad. I don’t want to be too old or too stuffy or too proper to sumo wrestle. But, it was only one teeny tiny episode, right?

Wrong.

I recently attended a Chris Isaak concert (Chris Isaak Wicked Game YouTube video). HE. WAS. AWESOME. 

Once Chris started crooning, I wanted to do what most fun people do at concerts – stand up and dance all night! But, NOOOOOO.

There was no dancing – just like Footloose. I wanted to boogie, but due to peer pressure (we were on the floor in the middle of the middle), I had to settle for chair dancing (and not the sexy kind as in let’s say, Flashdance – Sexy Chair Dance). My version of chair dancing probably looked more like squirming as if  I were discreetly trying to fix a wedgie.

Poor Chris. He’ll probably never come back to my stuffy, proper city that doesn’t groove to the beat (dead inside, the entire lot of ’em). Why would he? How fun could it possibly be to play for a crowd that acted like limp, wet rags? About as fun as getting poked in the eye with a hot poker I would imagine.

So, is that the way it’s going to be? No sumo wrestling? No dancing? I’m not quite ready to play dead yet.

Who’s with me?

The Middle Life: Making it Real

Hey, everyone! How’s it hangin’? Where have I been? I guess I’ve been on a writing sabbatical and not sure why.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since the school year started. So much so that I’m having trouble putting two sentences together to express myself.

What is the predominant thought swirling in my brain? Middle Age. At 46 years old, I have to admit I’m smack dab in the midst of middle age. By the way, when does middle age evolve into old age? . . . . . . . . You know what? Never mind, I’ll worry about that later.

How did I envision this stage of my life? I don’t have an answer. I’d never really thought about it much until I arrived so I can’t say that it’s not what I thought it would be. I’ve been going through my life like a freight train racing through the farmlands of the Midwest. Everything a blur. Until now. The train has now come to a screeching halt awaiting directions.

It’s so weird not to have plan. I’m a planner. I’ve always had a plan – get through high school, go to college, get an awesome career, get married, buy a house, have wonderful kids, . . . . . . . . Then, the plan is blank. The items listed so far have been completed, but now what?

Obviously, the next stage is . . . . . empty nester. Yikes.

Why am I dwelling on this now?

Rachel got accepted into the first of five colleges that she is considering (yay!) – we found out a week ago.  Reading the formal written acceptance letter was like seeing a Technicolor rainbow while getting pelted with ice-cold rain. Then, the rainbow disappeared. I thought to myself, “It’s really happening – she will be leaving.” I cried the entire day and still can’t talk about it without sobbing. I really need to pull it together, but I’m struggling.

Of course, I’m always thinking waaaayyy too far in advance. Since Rachel got accepted into college, I’m seeing my future with no kids at home (I sure can make the leaps, can’t I?).  What the hell am I going to do with myself when that happens?

The hubs is always saying to me, “Don’t under estimate the value of you quitting your full-time job and being around more for our kids.” I’m sure he’s right, but it’s also easy for him to say. He has a career that he enjoys and will still have this career when the kids are gone. Most of my day revolves around managing the kids. (Holy crap! I’m going to have a lot of free time.)

This next part of my life journey is like an unformed lump of clay. I’m scared of that – I really don’t know what to do with clay.

I need a plan. Any ideas?