Getting Real – Breast Cancer Treatments

This has been a long journey.  Next month, June, on the 27th will be one year since I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Invasive Ductile Carcinoma.  My breast cancer is Estrogen Hormone related, which means the cancer fed off my body’s creation of Estrogen.

For the next five to 10 years I will be taking a pill daily.  Letrozole 2.5 mg.  This tiny pill, smaller than a pencil eraser, is an “Estrogen Sex Hormone” blocker.  This tiny pill has the power to make me stumble around like I’m drunk sometimes.  I have balance issues.  My “Old Lady Beard” is being fruitful.  With the decrease of Estrogen in my body the Progesterone is having a fine old time.

This is my last week of Radiation treatments.  They started on March 28th.  Monday through Friday for about 25 minutes for each treatment.

My Radiation Treatment

My Radiation Treatment

Chemotherapy started on October 12th – 2016 and ended January 23 – 2017.  Every two weeks there was a six hour block of time spent at the Stephenson Cancer Center in Oklahoma City.  Part of the Oklahoma University Medical complex of buildings.  I went to the Stephenson Infusion Center for each Chemo treatment.  You can read about that HERE.

I’ve tried my best to stay positive throughout this experience.  For the most part, I have been successful.

The human body is one amazing creation.  Each phase of this cancer treatment has been with HIGHLY TOXIC fluids that would eat a hole in concrete, and now radiation that has its own set of dangers.

For months now, my body has been subjected to things that are meant to KILL.  And these things do kill – the cancer tumors and some tissues within the focal area of the Radiation.

How have I been affected by all this?  Okay, frankly, almost all of it has had bonuses.

I lost ALL of my body hair.  Showering has been wonderful.  Soap up a wash rag and scrub my head and face (and the rest of my body, too).  I have not purchased shampoo or conditioner for eight months.  My armpits didn’t need deodorant.  Not one minute spent on shaving my legs or underarms.

My eyelashes and eyebrows were casualties of the Chemo as well.  Trying to put on false eyelashes….without a baseline of the lashes…..was tricky to say the least.  Drawing on eyebrows without a starting, middle, and ending point made me look kind of off kilter most of the time.

The worst side effect I have had with all this cancer treatment has been fatigue.  Some days after the Chemo treatment I could not move from my recliner.  The two week intervals for Chemo had me nearly crashed for about 10 days.  The three or four days before the next treatment I had energy and felt really great.

The downside of Chemo is it is nearly impossible to eat.  I didn’t have many mouth sores, as other patients have experienced.  My fingernails felt like they were going to POP RIGHT OFF for several days after the Chemo.  That was uncomfortable.  I had some long bone pain.  My thigh bones, arms, and shoulder blades ached continuously.

Water smelled and tasted AWFUL!  Tap water and bottled water.  And don’t get me started on ice!  I am not a beer drinker.  I have one about every two years.  Let me tell you, I drank a bottle of beer a week during Chemo.  It felt so good on the back of my throat.  It tasted good even.  Normally I can’t stand the smell of the stuff.

Anything sweet, and I love sweets!  Cake, pie, brownies, cookies, candy.  You name it, if it is sweet I love it.

During Chemo….NOPE.  Every sweet thing that I loved – especially CHOCOLATE – once it was in my mouth it was so bad I had to spit it out.  The taste was SORT OF like that awful smell of a decomposing mouse or animal.  That sickly sweet, cloying, smell that screws up your face when you smell it.

Cooking while Joe was home made me hearken back to my pregnancy days, well over 40 years ago.  The smell of cooking meat bothered me.  During Chemo, I frequently scorched or burned things because I would go off in a trance like state for minutes at a time.  I was always so sleepy.

Oh, don’t let me forget the “Chemo Brain” that I continue to suffer with.  I would be talking to Joe and my mind would, quite literally, go blank.  I had no clue what I had been saying, nor what we had been discussing.  I often would find it quite daunting to think of the word or name for something.  Standing in the kitchen one evening, while I was cooking, minutes passed before I could even think of the utensil I needed to stir the soup simmering in the pot.

The total frustration is immense!

Joe and I had a standing weekly date with our neighbors on Thursday nights when we were in town for long stretches of time.  Dinner and a game of cards.  Conversation, laughter, and sometimes conversation got a bit dicey when it came  to political views.  During my Chemo treatment, which usually fell on Thursday at the start, the weekly camaraderie didn’t happen.  When my Chemo was moved to Tuesday I often still felt too ill to participate.  Cook and play cards.  There was one evening I do remember falling asleep in the middle of the card game.

I tried to make an effort to keep up with my YouTube videos.  That was hit and miss.  I received packages from all over the place.  Literally all over the place.  The UK, Canada, Italy, various US States.  The outpouring of LOVE has been such that I cannot even express my humble gratitude for the gifts.  As I felt energetic enough, and was able to put on the wonky fake eyelashes and oddly penciled brows, I made videos of the gifts of love I received.

As the Radiation Therapy has been my most recent regimen the fatigue remains.  I was told I would experience it.  During Physical Therapy after my Mastectomy in February I was told exercise would help with the fatigue and the Neuropathy I have in my hands and feet.

That is one major side effect of the Chemo that I will have for a long, long time.  Tingling and loss of feeling in my hands and fingers.  My finger tips are mostly effected.  They tingle all the time.  I also have tingling on the soles of my feet.  Sometimes walking on the carpet in my home, the feeling is like walking on sharp gravel.  When I go through my kitchen and bathroom, which are linoleum, my feet hurt as the tingling intensifies.

I have been going to a local “10 Gym” to use the treadmill for 40 minutes a day.  This has helped with the Neuropathy in my feet.  In the evenings my toes are the only part of my feet effected.  Sometimes my toes feel like they are going to just pop.  That is uncomfortable but manageable.  I am on some medication – oddly for seizures – that help with this side effect.  This medication also has an effect on my balance.  More meds to make me stumble around drunk.

I have a lot of energy in the mornings.  My Radiation Therapy is generally around 10 each morning.  After that I drive right to the gym and do my walking.  I know that if I don’t go right after my Radiation…..”it ain’t happening”.  I’m home around noon or 1.  By 2 in the afternoon is when my body crashes.  Quite literally.  I fall asleep for two to three hours.  Waking up at 5 in the evening, I consider my day SHOT!

I have been concentrating on getting my life in order.  It has been nearly a year since I have done general cleaning in my home and it really shows.  I have made a concentrated effort to make a list of small things to do during this last week of my Radiation Therapy.  I have dragged out my “Happy Planner“….which has been unused since about September of last year.  Time to get with the program and do what I can as I feel the energy to do it.

Next week's plan

Next week’s plan

I have divided my weekly spreads for “Medical Appointments” at the top section; “Home” in the center section; and “Joe” in the lower section.  Keeping track of where he is picking up, delivering, and where he stays the night for our business records.

I purchased the “Home Management” insert for the Happy Planner to not allow my “Chemo Brain” to continually take over my life.

This coming week, May 8 to 14, is “Zone 2” in the Flylady way of house keeping.  I relied heavily on this website for years in the past.  It is high time to get started once again.  I am POSITIVE that I CAN DO THIS!.  Get my life back!

Happy Planner insert for Home Management

Happy Planner insert for Home Management

So….I’m toying with the idea of doing a blog post daily this coming week to reflect on my successes and not so much success.  I’m thinking of calling them the “One Boob Chronicle”.  I’m not ashamed of my physical attributes, or lack there of.  I can’t wear a bra right now because my chest is so raw from the Radiation.  It is evident that I am lacking in the “chesty area” when I go out in public.  So why not just CELEBRATE MY UNIQUENESS!

I have a YouTube video that shows my Radiation Treatment.  Be warned if you watch it.  I show my Mastectomy and the rawness from the Radiation.  You can see it below if you choose to.

Until next time.  Have a FABULOUS Sunday 😀

My Mastectomy. Breast Cancer journey almost over.

Are you facing treatment for Breast Cancer?  Have you been filled with horror stories about what is ahead for you?

Chemotherapy or radiation therapy?  There are frightening stories of people constantly vomiting and being severely nauseous from the Chemo.  Humiliated and discouraged over the loss of head hair.  Having no strength or stamina to take care of normal everyday duties.  Fatigue that is constant and debilitating.  The kind which you can’t get out of bed except to go to the bathroom and that is difficult in and of itself.

I don’t have any experience with the radiation therapy, as of yet.  So I can’t speak to that treatment.

If I had to recommend a place to be treated for breast cancer, it would be OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  The OU Physician Center, Stephenson Cancer Center, OU Surgical Center, OU Medical Center, and Stephenson Infusion Center have the most caring staff I have ever dealt with.

From my experience, my attitude had everything to do with the low amount of side effects I had with all of my treatments, from the initial diagnosis.  Pain was at a low level and was tolerable.  That is until my last rounds of Chemo when I was switched to a different type.  My breast cancer was a temporary medical problem. The end result was always going to be a mastectomy.

Look, to be honest, the process is a bit scary.  What are the doctors and nurses going to be doing to me?!  Does my boob get whacked off today?  When does the Chemo come in?

You can do tons of research on the internet about breast cancer and the treatments of it.  Every person is different, and every cancer diagnosis is different.  Treatment protocols are different depending on the cancer Stage and type.

Let me tell you!  There are many different types of breast cancer.  I thought there was just one…breast cancer.  Check out this page from “Types of Breast Cancer.

Some people have an attitude that “This is only temporary and won’t rule my life forever”, while others are totally freaked out by the diagnosis and have an attitude that is, more or less, “Poor me.  My looks are going to be ruined and no one will ever love me again!”

Some people have a very low tolerance for pain.  The growing cancer tumor in the breast would, possibly, be extremely painful to some.  For me, it was a sporadic slight burning sensation that lasted from one to two seconds in the beginning.  Later, as it grew the burning pain would last longer even though it was still sporadic – not a constant pain.  Up to 10 seconds.  It was very uncomfortable.  Not so uncomfortable that it stopped me doing my  normal daily activities or interfered with my truck driving job.

I had my first breast biopsy on June 27, 2016.  Ultrasound guided breast biopsy is what I had.  I had several of this type of biopsy done before Chemo started.  I was given a local anesthetic for each biopsy to lessen the pain caused by the steel needle injected into the breast and directly into the cancerous tumor.  Three core samples were taken with each biopsy.  The next day my breast would be painful and I would need a pain pill – two at the most for the week.

I had a PET Scan on July 22, 2016.  This scan was from my head to about mid thigh to see if my breast cancer had spread to other parts of my body.  Being a 40 year pack a day smoker the scan would spend quite a bit of time on my head and chest area before going down to the lower extremities of my body.  My head and chest were clear of any worrisome markers.  My stomach had a spot that needed to be checked, there was a questionable spot on top of one of my kidneys, and there was a dark black spot on my right hip bone that would need to be checked.

On August 8, 2016 I had a Bone Biopsy of my right hip joint.  Each of these radio-logical procedures were a bit frightening to me.  I had not had prior experience with any of these giant machines and didn’t know what to expect.  Having a bit of claustrophobia I was more terrified of being stuck in a tight tube than I was of the procedures.  The results of the hip bone biopsy were negative…no cancer in the hip.

On August 11, 2016 I had a Stomach Scope to check the dark spot shown in the PET Scan.  Turns out I had a bit of an ulcer which was treated with a course of antibiotics.  No cancer in my stomach.

On August 19, 2016 I had another breast biopsy and my first round of Faslodex shots to stop the growth of my cancer.  My cancer tumor was continuing to grow, causing the underside of my left breast to be swollen and purple.  My type of breast cancer was hormone related.  Meaning that this cancer fed off of estrogen in my body, and sugars from my liver.  The Faslodex would inhibit estrogen from being made in my body.

On September 2, 2016 I had my second round of Faslodex.  Turns out this treatment was not as effective as my doctors had hoped it would be.

I had another breast biopsy on September 24, 2016 to see how much growth the tumor continued to have.  It was growing quite a bit and was very uncomfortable.  On September 26, 2016 my Oncologist, Dr. Sobia Nabeel,  decided that I would be put on a Chemo regimen.  That would be determined after I had a Heart Scan.  This scan would let my Oncologist know if my heart was healthy enough for the rigors of Chemotherapy.

On October 7, 2016 I had a surgical procedure to install a Chemo Port in my right upper chest.  This was done as an outpatient procedure.  It was quite uncomfortable for a few days after it was placed under my skin.  I had some difficulty sleeping on my right side with the port being in the way of my comfort.

Chemo Port implant

Chemo Port implant

October 12, 2016 began my Chemotherapy treatments of DoxirubicinYou can read my blog post about that here.  November 1, 2016 I was admitted to the hospital for a Urinary Tract Infection that had gone septic.  I spent November 1 to 6 in the hospital under very good care.  The fluids they pumped into me caused my body to swell until I thought I was going to POP!  October 26, 2016 was my second round of the Red Devil – Doxirubicin that lead to the UTI and subsequent hospital stay.

Just so I know that they have the "Big Guns" going...I guess

Just so I know that they have the “Big Guns” going…I guess

December 23, 2016 my chemo drug was changed from Doxirubicin to Paclitaxel or Taxol.  My last Taxol treatment was on January 23, 2016.  This Paclitaxel or Taxol as the nurses called it, was supposed to be not as bad as the Doxirubicin.  I had not had any bad side effects with the Doxirubicin, other than losing my hair.  So in my way of thinking the Taxol was going to be a breeze.  Uhm, not quite.  I had a lot of bone pain with the Taxol.  I swear, there was someone in the Stephenson Cancer Center that had a voodoo doll made just for me.  That person had one job and that job was to jab a pin in the doll at any place they wanted and for how long they wanted.

The pains from the Taxol were sharp, intense, and lasted no longer than 10 seconds.  That 10 seconds was quite exciting!  The little bone at your outside ankle, know where I’m speaking of?  That was one place that would be frequently hit by the sharp, intense, pain.  Within minutes after the ankle, between by ear lobe and jaw bone the next pain would show up.  That one brought me up in my seat or stopped me from moving.  A few minutes later my left mid thigh bone – femur I think it is called – would have the sharp and intense pain.  Not quite as bad as Liam Neeson had done in the movie Taken.  Just in the same general area.

After that last chemo treatment my doctor visits began to slow down.  I have not had any further breast biopsies.  I did have a Mammogram of both breasts on January 24, 2016 to see if the cancer was still growing or if the chemo drugs had done their job.  The radiologist came to me after the procedure was finished to say, had there not been a marker placed in my breast during the first biopsy she would not have known that I even had a cancerous tumor.  There was nothing there.

Although the Chemotherapy was rough on my body….tired all the time, extremely low energy levels, not being able to keep up with daily household chores, and being knocked down and out if I overdid some housework.  Which means if I spent longer than 10 minutes on housekeeping duties for the entire day then I was whacked for that day and into the next.  I did not have a lot of trouble with the Chemotherapy.

The next part of my cancer treatment was to have the Mastectomy.  When a breast gets lopped off, how does the surgeon put skin back over the wound?  That is the question I asked my surgeon’s nurse.  She had to hide a giggle at my question to remain professional.  🙂

The procedure is not what I had envisioned.  My surgeon, Dr. William Dooley  has been so good at explaining everything to me.  He has a tall cart with a laptop.  He types stuff as we talk about my tumor growth, the Chemotherapy, the biopsies, why I have the same shot of pain in the exact same area of my right breast as I have with the cancerous left breast.  Per Dr. Dooley, the nerves coming from the spinal column at my breast height connects the two breasts together.  What one feels the other does as well.

On the day of my Mastectomy he took a bit more time to let me know what he was going to do.  He was going to cut all the way,  horizontally, across my left breast to near my arm pit.  The skin was going to be rolled upward to my collar bone and the lower skin was going to be rolled down to my ribs.  Dr. Dooley would then remove all the of the breast tissue, go down into the muscles to take some of them away, and then go into my arm pit area to remove the lymph nodes both Dr. Nabeel and Dr. Dooley found to have cancer in them.

This whole procedure was done in an Outpatient Surgery Center.  Once I came out of the Recovery Room without any problems I was taken to a monitoring area while the drugs were further wearing off and I was no longer talking gibberish.  Joe was waiting for me when I arrived.  About 30 to 45 minutes later I was discharged and sent home.  I was home at a little after 1:00 p.m.  Surgery was at 8:15 a.m., we were told to arrive at 6:30 a.m. for all the prep needed before the surgery.  So all tolled it was 6 1/2  hours then home.

My left breast is sunken in the center.  I have two drains, one comes from way up in my arm pit and the other comes from the surgical area.


Image result for mastectomy drains

Photo courtesy of Susan G. Komen Mastectomy The Procedure.

I have to drain the bulbs three times a day and record the amount of fluid removed from each bulb.  Joe is really good at doing this for/with me.

I have the most comfortable bra on…yes you read that correctly!  It has two pockets that hang down from the bra.  The pockets are to hold the drain bulbs.  Why, oh why, did it take having a mastectomy to find a bra that fit well?!

Image result for mastectomy drains and bras

Photo courtesy of Surgery Supplements.

Dr. Dooley told me I would have “muscle spasms” that would burn.  Let me tell you, he got the burn part right but I don’t know if it is muscle spasms or not.  At my arm pit I will get one (excuse me) hellacious burning sensation that lasts about 15 seconds.  Typical example is a burn from the hot oven when your arm touches the oven rack.  That kind of a burn sensation!

I have read in the literature supplied to me that it will be several WEEKS of recuperating from this major surgery.  I am not to life anything that weighs more than a gallon of milk – about 8 pounds.  No strenuous activity.  Lots of rest.

I do some of the cooking.  Joe has done a bit of it as well.  He asks if I need help, or he will ask if he can help me.  He doesn’t make a nuisance of himself asking me that question frequently.  I get really testy and nasty if he does that.

As far as actual “PAIN” goes.  I’ve had a C-Section and that pain is bad enough to make your ears ring and you cry for days.  I don’t have that kind of pain with this mastectomy.  The reason I think is because with a C-Section your stomach muscles are used to sit up, stand up, walk, bend over, reach for things, and just general all around use of the muscles.  The chest muscles are not used so much as the stomach.  Thus, almost no pain.  That is until I press on or near the surgery site.  YIKES!  OUCHY, OUCHY, OUCHY!

All in all, I am doing well.  This seven month journey has not been all bad.  I have been blessed with professional help all along the way.  Doctors, nurses, reception staff, and all the other support staff in the Infusion Centers, Oncologist and Surgeon office, medical testing areas – radiological testing and procedures.

All this to say that I am doing well and nearing the end of my breast cancer treatment.  Although everything that has happened and been done in this treatment regimen has not been terribly bad….I don’t want to go through this again that is for sure.

Well that is my refresher on events and a current update.  This has been three days in the making and it is now finished.  Blah blah blah I know.