A recipe for living with cancer.

Posts tagged ‘therapy’

Standing like Wonder Woman

Two weeks until surgery and I am starting to get butterflies in my stomach.  I have been anxious and worried but now it’s getting worse.

The whole process of breast cancer therapy is daunting, never-ending (seemingly), a free fall and painful.  It is physically painful and emotionally painful for a long time, and the fear of a recurrence never leaves our consciousness.  The therapy process, once you understand it, is horrific in terms of anticipation and actuation, and yet we all seem to make it through.  Surgery is disfiguring and painful and the loss of a piece of your body inculcates us, we will never be the same, we need to change our body image and if you already have body image issues this just becomes another one to add to the list.  My hips are big, thighs are fat, arms are flabby, my neck is wrinkled, my hair is thin and now my breasts are… are… not there.

The mounds sitting on my chest as a result of a water balloon (commonly called skin expander) inserted and stretched to a size A/B are amorphous numb lumps that neither resemble my breasts, nor have any sensation at all. That is not true, the muscles in my breast are painful and weird in that they hurt and I can feel them move and flex when I do certain movements.  When exercising and stretching the place where the fake skin is attached hurts and pulls. The chest muscles were cut at the bottom and attached to a piece of ‘processed’ skin and reattached then lifted to the skin surface to form a pouch.  The water balloon is slipped in underneath the muscle into the pouch and filled with saline to the size you want, require or desire.

Any sexuality associated with sensation and my breasts is gone and likely will never return, never to what it was.  What will my impending breast surgery afford me once finished?  A facsimile of my breasts that will neither feel, look, nor function as before, although I do not need it to function as a milk station any longer.  They will look like breasts, possibly feel like breasts, but they will not really be breasts, they will be “chunks” of stomach tissue, muscle and fat cut from my stomach area (obviously) and stuffed into the man-made pocket made by the water balloons.  I think a lot about what they will look like, what will it feel like and what scars will remain.  I currently have five-inch scars on each breast bisecting the breast side to side.  I was quite taken aback when I first saw these scars expecting them to be much smaller and not quite so obvious.

I have spent the last year obsessed with breasts, scars, reconstruction surgery, before and after pictures, nipple tattoos, scar tattoos, blogs, websites and reviews of anything and everything to do with breast cancer, breast surgery, reconstruction of breasts and breast outcomes.  To look at my history on the computer one might begin to wonder just what kind of gruesome disturbed person I am looking at all these things.  I’ve watched mastectomy and reconstruction surgery videos over and over to become comfortable with what they will be doing and to better understand the process.  Too much information is not always a good thing.  Now I worry, what if I don’t like them, what if they are still uncomfortable like the water balloons, what if I am making a mistake and should just be flat, what if I don’t make it through surgery, or I have complications, what if what if what if.  I need to go into this surgery with a different attitude, a Wonder Woman attitude of success, instead of a what happens if it is a failure?

Brent told me about a TED talk the other day: Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are.  It talks about going into a stressful situation and how you go in shapes how you come out.  For example a job interview: go in tentative and uncertain, not feeling adequate for the job and chances are you come out without getting the job.  Go in confident, assured, knowing you can vanquish the world, go in like Wonder Woman and chances are you will get the job. Take a look at the Amy Cuddy video then think of me the day of surgery.  Right before I go in, I will be standing there next to the gurney for 2 minutes, huge blue gown hanging down to my calves-open in the back-attractive paper cap on my head, IV hanging from my arm, gray socks on my feet, hands on my hips, standing like Wonder Woman, ready to vanquish the world!

 

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Listen More Carefully

Post medical issue Hypochondria is a phenomena associated with any major illness.  Once you have had a heart attack, cancer, major surgery, or any accident you become hyper-aware of your body and it’s idiosyncracies.  Every ache, pain, twinge, pull, itch or mark becomes a major obstacle to be reviewed and examined.  I perseverate over every bump, lump and coloration near, on or around my bilateral mastectomy. Each time I raise my arm the skin pulls and the muscle is tight, but I do not run to the phone and call my PCP, or the oncologist, or radiologist. I wait, look again the next day, stretch a bit more to help the skin  and pass it off as nothing more than normal bodily changes caused by the barrage of therapies my poor body has been put through.  I do sometimes curse the therapies, the cancer and the lack of perfection (not that my body was ever perfect) but on the whole I am a relatively good patient with few anxieties but I do panic when I find a lump, I always have, because it could be breast cancer…and that one time it was.  Herein lies the irony, women are told, listen to your body, you know your body best, when something is not right you will know.  Therefore do I need to stop listening to my body after cancer because it will lie to me, trick me into thinking something is wrong?  Or do I just have to listen more carefully and evaluate more.

I also have the luxury of being married to a physician and if I am really concerned can bring him into the loop and posit the question, do you think this is normal?  And normal is relative of course.  The one area I have been remiss is this tingling in my arm and hand. This has gone on for about 6 weeks now and my personal physician says, get it looked at.

Last week was my final herceptin infusion.  17 infusions starting last July every three weeks.  It is an antibody so there are no side effects, and with my super nurse Barb I never had to worrying about the IV.  She is patient and methodical in choosing her vein, she doesn’t move quickly, remembers veins that have the little valve she got stuck on just once and quickly dispatches the iv and tapes it down.

But I digress, before the infusion I had an appointment with the PA for a checkup.  They do a cursory exam and ask you how things are going.  I mentioned a sore spot and the fact that I have had tingling in my arm and hand.  The PA immediately stopped the exam and sat down in the chair next to me totally exasperated. “Listen,” she said, “patients who have gone through what you have gone through have certain anxieties…”  I tried to stop her and say no, my arm…”no listen,” she interrupted, ” you are going to have anxieties about every little thing associated with your body.  You will think every little thing is a reocurance of your cancer and it is not.  You will worry about things that before you had cancer you would have ignored, and now you will think it is serious.  If something lasts for more than two weeks then you should call and come see us, otherwise don’t worry about it.”  Really?

I should have stopped the PA and told her to listen more carefully to me first, then talk, but I didn’t, I just wanted to get out, get my infusion get done and be DONE.  I will have anxiety forever.  I am not 100% cured, no one is, and that means someday I may find another lump or bump or discoloration, or puckering and I’d better follow-up with it.  And hopefully the person I go to will listen more carefully.

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