It is more important to know where you are going, than how long it takes to get there.

Monday, February 21, 2011

How Will I Know...

Early last week I had a follow up appointment with my oncologist, Dr. Banana Split. Because I can't remember what I did five minutes ago, I came armed with a list of questions. Unfortunately, I forgot the list at home, but I was able to recreate it in the parking lot. Number one on this list was my memory issue. My short term memory is nonexistent. Molly called to remind me to bring her inhaler to school in a hour, but I forgot. Riley called for her flute, but I forgot to bring it to her. I looked at the calendar and realized I had an appointment with Dr. Dad in two hours, but promptly forgot and missed the appointment. (I would be a great recipient of gossip because I could never remember enough to repeat it.) Dr. Split told me that I have "Chemo Brain." I thought...still? She said that it lasts a year. So...I have six more months of forgetfulness. I have resorted to placing post-it notes all over the kitchen cabinets. Now, I just need to remember to look at the notes.

The second on my list was a question about testing to see if the cancer returns. No one mentioned what is done to check on the status of the cancer cells that were supposed to be wiped out with chemotherapy and radiation; nor had I read anywhere about post-treatment tests. She said that other than yearly mammograms, no regular tests are administered to her breast cancer patients. I will get "half" a mammogram each year - meaning only on my right side. ("Half a mammogram" is my term, not the technical term.) On my left, reconstructed side, any cancer lump will be easily detected because it will present itself as a bump just under the surface of the skin. In the past, breast cancer patients were given two bone scans and one CT scan every year - that's a lot of nukes! But, studies showed that those with scans and those without scans showed no difference in detecting reoccurring cancer. Dr. Split said that we - she & I - will pay close attention to changes my body , i.e. joint pain, bone aches, constant headaches, sudden weight changes, etc. My oncologist has a low tolerance for these symptoms, and would order tests immediately. I am not sure if I feel too comfortable relying on myself to detect anything unusual with my body - it seems like I have aches and pains all the time. Plus, if I did have an odd pain, I'd probably forget what it was before I could report it! Until now, I thought my regular blood tests were screening for cancer , but I was wrong. The blood tests are to check my vitamin D levels, my thyroid, and other fun stuff. Honestly, I find the unknown much more scary than the known - the question of recurrence vs. treating it.

Also on my list was a question about some hard lumps and bruising skin on my reconstructed side. I told Dr. Split that I made an appointment with the plastic surgeon, Dr. Chief, for the following week, but she said this was Dr. Dad's issue, the radiation oncologist. (I know, it is hard to keep all these doctors straight.) Dr. Split called in Dr. Dad while I was there, and he said that fibrosis has formed because of the radiation. I now have 4 more pills to take daily. One of the pills is a pretty lavender color to add to my pill rainbow.

My hands fall asleep often. Dr. Split told me that I probably have carpal tunnel syndrome - a side effect of Tamoxifen - my daily, preventative cancer pill. Tamoxifen can dry out joints, resulting in carpal tunnel syndrome. The Tin Man and I have something in common. Maybe I should find an oil can. Now when I sleep at night, I wear wrist braces. I think I look Wonder Womanish with these things on my wrists. I might paint them red, white & blue and get some really cool white boots. It is odd how I can remember what Wonder Woman wore, but I can't remember if I brushed my teeth an hour ago!

Not only do I have Chemo Brain, I also have Chemo Curl. My once straight hair is growing back curly! If only it was the 80's - when perms were in fashion. The curliness combined with the gray makes me look like an old lady that just got a perm - except my hair is more white/gray than blue/gray.

If I could keep my body temperature from spiking all night - aka hot flashes - I might get a decent night of sleep. I am sure that at any moment I am going to spontaneously combust! It was 5 degrees last night, and I slept in a tank top! You gotta love that Tamoxifen.

Dr. Banana Split is sending me back to physical therapy, but with a different therapist. I guess I failed the first time. Oh joy!

Whacky thought for the day...
Do you think Wonder Woman had carpal tunnel syndrome? She also had curly hair, and perfect, reconstructed-type breasts. I wonder...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Depression Confession...

Last June, when I had a follow-up appointment with my surgeon, Dr. T. Best, she said something to me that didn't make sense at the time. She said that after all this is over, I might not feel myself, and to not put up with this garbage. She continued to say that if I start feeling depressed or anxious to get some help, and not be ashamed. She also told me that I could come see her if I wanted her help. ( Dr. T. Best is an amazing physician.)

Doesn't it make sense that after all the treatments a cancer patient would feel elation and not depression? I felt better during chemotherapy than I do now.

Why is it easier to talk about constipation that depression? They are both physiological side effects. Since the end of my radiation, I have had a little issue with depression - nothing major like I am going to jump off a bridge. Just some days I just wanted to hang out at home and not go anywhere, or talk to anyone other than family. Some days I felt like sleeping all the time. Sometimes I just sat by the fire and stared out the window. In December I received a new addition to my pill box that helps me get through this stage of cancer recovery. It is a beautiful, bright pink color, called Effexor. Now I have a rainbow of colors in my pill box - white, green, pink, and yellow.

It is strange how literature for cancer therapy focuses on all side effects but depression. There is very little written about depression; the signals, and when or how to get help. However, there are multiple pages, even complete pamphlets dedicated to controlling nausea by what your eat, or dealing with constipation.

Llama Lover, told me that she was caught off guard with the same feelings after she finished her cancer treatments. She found solace in a tiny pill called Zoloft. She's a year ahead of me in this journey, and she is off it now.

Whacky thought for the day...
Why is there such a stigma placed on depression, but not other physiological issues like epilepsy, diabetes, heart disease or cancer?

Saturday, February 12, 2011


I am not very good at remembering dates or statistics. I do not know that day of my first date with Chubba, and I barely remember birthdays of nieces and nephews. I do not know how much my girls weighed at birth or the exact time they were born. I cannot even remember the date of my mastectomy - sometime in mid May. However, I do remember that one year ago today, I was told that I might have breast cancer. February 12 is etched into my memory.

If you are reading this, you are probably saying to yourself, I can't believe that a year has passed so quickly. Sometimes I feel like the year flew by, and other times if crawled the tortoise and the hare.

Speaking of hair...My hair is now about 1 & 3/4 inches/4.5cm long. It is not as shiny and healthy looking as I had hoped. The color still looks like I have been standing outside in a snow storm. I am dying to dye it. Soon, very soon. I also have curls in the back at the bottom - I look like a MLB ball player's curly hair sticking out from under his baseball cap, except I am not wearing a cap.

To you loyal readers, thank you for an entire year of support. I am shocked that anyone ever took time out of their busy lives to read this jibber jabber, and to send me supportive comments, e-mails, cards, etc. My next post will be pictures of my healing wall - it is the last thing see before I go to sleep, and the first thing that I see when I awake. All of you have made a big difference in my recovery and my life.

Happy Anniversary!

Whacky thoughts for the day...
#1 When my hair starting growing and it was just a tiny stubble, I had a 1 inch/2.8cm hair growing under my chin! At least I kept the big bad wolf away with it.

#2 Have you ever noticed that people with a very wrinkly faces have not a single wrinkle on their noses?