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...