Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Proud Mama

This weekend, Feb. 18, to be exact, will be two years since my bilateral mastectomy. Two years I might not have had. Two years in which so much has happened: some bad, some sad, some downright ugly. But I don’t want to go there.
I’d rather focus on the amazing things I’ve been a part of that might not have been. Most of us don’t think this way unless we’ve gone through a traumatic event. It’s only then that we look back at the blessings that have come our way.
My daughter was in her junior year of college when I was diagnosed. Fortunately, I was here to see her graduate, with honors, from a college in New Jersey, with a degree and a job!
It wasn’t easy getting her back to the West Coast and getting her settled (it took three moves in five months) in Sacramento. My husband and I complained the whole way.
But nothing can compare to the pride we felt recently when we went to a fundraiser at her place of employment. The largest crab feed in the country - which it was, serving 1,800 hungry crab lovers - couldn’t take the place of all the “Your daughter is awesome” comments we heard. How often does a parent really have the chance to find out how well their kids have turned out?
I remember when she was in middle school. A sleepover invariably would end with the other parents telling us what a great kid she was. We’d look at each other, my husband and I, and wonder if they were talking about our kid??? Was this the same kid who ignored us, threw tantrums and never liked anything we suggested?
Now we were hearing her boss praise her work, how well she deals with the children, how much they appreciate her. The volunteers who help at the therapeutic riding center all knew our girl. They hugged us. They were all so pleased to meet this kid’s parents.
When did our little girl grow up to be so special? Where were we when this happened?
We still see the needy child who calls in a panic when she can’t find her new drivers’ registration we sent in the mail (she actually had to go Dumpster diving to find it in the bag of trash she’d thrown out).
We still see the child who calls to ask what she should do because her mouth is hurting or her shoulder is sore.
We still see the child who calls when her car window gets smashed and her purse is stolen (we won’t go into how many times we’ve discussed leaving the purse in the car).
We still see the child who calls when she’s offered a 401K with a match and asks if she should do it (we had to explain the concept of free money).
We still see the child whose $100 Fitbit she got for her birthday just a few months ago fell from its case and was lost. She’s fit to be tied. What should she do? (Before we could even think about it, she’d emailed the company, complained about the product’s quality and a new one was on the way!) But of course, not before getting us all riled up.
These are the “precious” moments the past two years have given me. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Knowing that somewhere along the way, we must have done something right, we must have done something that encouraged our little girl to grow up and give back, makes all those phone calls bearable.
Surviving cancer gave me the chance to see my daughter turn into someone whose special skills and innate love for horses and children turn into a daily miracle.
This mama couldn’t be more proud.

Friday, December 16, 2011

I got a tattoo; I got a tattoo; I got 2 tattoos!

Finally, Dec. 14th arrived! I'm headed for work, scheduled to have my micropigmentation later that day. The phone rings. It's the doctor's office. He isn't feeling well today (I'm thinking, OMG, I can't believe they're going to cancel on me again!)...but he must have known better. They just wanted to move the schedule up so he could get out earlier since he wasn't feeling well. Great. I can handle this. I turn back toward home.
Then I start to think: Geesh, if he's not feeling so well, can I trust him to draw a circle and fill it in? I'll take the chance. In less than an hour, it was all over. An anesthetic injected to numb the already numb area (but it does help keep the bleeding down; whoever knew tattoos bleed?)
Then the artist goes to work. He's definitely got his system down. He shows off the multiple needles and explains what will happen....I don't feel a thing. It sounds like the whirrring of the polisher when you get your teeth cleaned.
Before you know it, it's done. Keep some Neosporin on it with light bandages to keep the Neosporin off my clothes. Sounds easy.
I don't look till later that evening as I change the bandage. It's red, blotchy looking at this point. I'm calm; I'm sure the look will improve over time.
It's been a couple of days now and it's starting to look more normal. Whatever that is ....what's normal about having fake nipples, after all?
I'm sure it will look fine...from a distance....but who's looking anyway?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Maybe God doesn't want me to have a tattoo...

OK. So I was supposed to get my first legitimate tattoos (micropigmentation) on Friday, Oct. 14th. Then my plastic surgeon's office called and moved it up to Oct. 7; Dr. Askren was going to be out of town on the 14th. Great. I was  looking forward to getting my breast reconstruction process finished up!

Friday, Oct. 7th: I worked from home, knowing I had to go in to the doctor and not knowing what to really expect. But the office called. You're not going to believe this, but their power was out. Hopefully, it would be back up soon. They'd call back. Not too much later, they called back. PG&E was estimating it could take up to 8 hours. They'd have to postpone. On Monday, they'd call with a new date and time.

Monday, Oct. 10: The doctor's office calls and reschedules for Nov. 16th. OK, I can manage that. I was hoping to have the tattoos in time for a family occasion on the East Coast the weekend of Nov. 11, but that obviously wasn't happening...they'd call me if they had any cancellations and could get me in sooner. No use sweating over it.

Thursday, Oct. 13: I get a message to call the doctor's office. I'm thinking, "Wow, maybe they had an earlier opening," so I'm excited when I call. But here's where God had to have stepped in. This kind of stuff doesn't happen to everyone, just to me. The scheduler apologizes, but she's going to have to change the November appointment. "To an earlier date, I ask?" "No," she says. "Unfortunately the machine that they use for the micropigmentation is broken and has to be sent out to be fixed." They're not sure when it will be back. I'm now scheduled for....December 14th!!!

Empower yourself

    My mother had lung cancer. It was no surprise. She smoked three packs of Pall Malls a day and had her first heart attack when I was 12. My teen years were spent waiting on her, responding to the bell she kept bedside, eating prepared meals delivered daily to the house and resenting the fact that my friends had “cool” parents. Mom spent most of her time in a hospital room trying to coax the nurses into smuggling in a pack of cigarettes — oxygen tent be damned!
   My father had open heart surgery in the early days of the procedure; he was in his early 50s. He, too, was a smoker, but he just up and quit one day. Too late. By my mid-20s, both were gone.
   I figured I was destined to have a heart attack. Three of five older brothers have already had heart attacks, bypass surgeries or stints.
    Imagine my surprise when two years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Just like that, out of the blue. Breast cancer? How could that possibly be? I barely had breasts. (When I was single I had a sign in my apartment: “Small-breasted women have big hearts.” I believed it.) I had mammograms yearly; PAP smears annually; saw my internist for annual physicals and quarterly checkups, went to the dentist regularly, got allergy shots on schedule, took all my medications. I did all the right things.
   Why me? It’s a question all of us who have suffered through breast cancer ask ourselves. And it’s a question no one can answer. With the exception of the 6% of women who get breast cancer because it’s in the family, we may never know why.
   On the day I woke to a swollen and sore breast, I called my doctor immediately and got in that day.

Empower yourself to look after yourself
   Though I’d had a clear mammogram just a few months earlier, I was sent for another and given an antibiotic to address the soreness and swelling. That mammogram turned into a sonogram, too, in search of the culprit. It was just a cyst. What a relief!
   The doctor asked if I wanted to aspirate it. “Of course,” I responded. There was no question in my mind that I wanted it OUT.
   We scheduled the aspiration for a couple of weeks later. It was all quite normal. I’d been through it before. I didn’t think much of it.
   But as I lay on the examining table with the sonogram machine next to me and the doctor ready with needle to aspirate, something went terribly wrong. The cyst couldn’t be located. Instead, a dark spreading mass showed up onscreen. The doctor changed his plan of action. He would take a biopsy.
   The news wasn’t good. From that point on, my life was a whirlwind of activity. More tests, more doctors, more appointments. How was a woman supposed to go to work through all this? My surgeon, Dr. Vassi Gardikas, my oncologist Dr. Christopher Perkins, and my plastic surgeon Dr. Carl Askren, worked together to determine the best approach. My calendar quickly filled up. I didn’t have time in my life for this. How would I manage it all?
   I have a demanding more-than-full-time job with lots of responsibility and a staff that depend on me. I have a husband, a daughter in college on the East Coast, and a home to worry about. But I was determined. I would get through this like any other bump in the road.

Empower yourself to look after yourself
   It wasn’t going to be easy.
   “You had the knowledge base to report it,” says Dr. Perkins “You’ve risen to where you are because you are empowered to do something. Once every woman rises above that list of all the things that come first for the family while they neglect themselves, then we’ll see real change.”
   What made me react so quickly to those early signs and to follow through? Perhaps my upbringing. Even with seven kids running around and parents who themselves weren’t the healthiest examples, I clearly remember that health was always at the top of the list (along with education). We all went to the doctor and dentist regularly, four of us had braces on our teeth, two had major optical issues that required special care, one had intestinal issues that required operations, one lost her front teeth in a bicycle mishap and I bit my tongue in half when hit by a swing as a toddler. All of this in addition to the normal childhood mishaps that require medical attention. None of us ever went without medical care.
    Today I ask myself where I’d be now had I not pursued having the cyst aspirated? My cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma, Nottingham Grade 3/3, Her2 positive, was a fast-growing cancer, positioned right behind my left nipple. So fast-growing that I had to have chemotherapy first to slow the growth.
   Six rounds of chemotherapy over 18 weeks started immediately. A bilateral mastectomy (my choice to take both breasts) came after recovering from the chemo, and was followed by breast reconstruction. Four surgeries in the year 2010. It wasn’t the best year of my life; it set me back in more ways than just my health, but I was determined not to let breast cancer become my life, determined not to let it define me.
    I kept up at work, hoping to set an example for my staff, my peers and friends. I tried to see the humor in the loss of hair, the loss of privacy. I painted my nails and toes with bright aqua nail polish every time I went in for surgery. It was always the rage with the nurses (who aren’t allowed to polish their nails). I blamed my forgetfulness on “chemo brain.” (In fact, I still do.) I wore a blond wig to work just for fun (I was a finely dyed brunette prior to losing my hair). I basically bared it all, writing my story for The Bee’s oped pages last year, adding a personal blog, and truthfully answering the curiosities of any who had the nerve to ask.

Empower yourself to look after yourself
   Perkins, of California Oncology of the Central Valley, specializes in breast cancer treatment so he can stay on top of the latest treatments, the latest clinical trials and the progress made treating breast cancer — and bring that expertise to his patients here.
But he says he still gets patients who are further along in the disease for one critical reason: “I was too busy with the kids, the house, the husband.”
   “We need to encourage women to move themselves up on the list,” Perkins says. “At the deeper core is the notion that women have to take care of themselves. The true essence of empowerment is taking the lead in your health. It isn’t rising up the corporate ladder.”
   Perkins blames conflicting reports in the media about the importance of breast self-examination and the age at which you should start having mammograms for adding to the confusion women encounter.
   The bottom line: “The monthly self breast exam is something every mother should be teaching their girls at a young age, as soon as they have their first period... start the habit at an early age,” Perkins advises.
   “It all comes back to ‘I’m taking care of myself so I can be empowered to go on and do something with my life.’”
    Perkins takes the lead with patients who bring teen daughters with them, using the opportunity to demonstrate self examination..
   “The key is if you find something, report it. Don’t let anyone ever tell you, ‘It’s nothing, we’ll check it again in three months.’ If there’s an abnormality in the breast, you need a biopsy. It’s the only way to tell what it is,” he cautions.
   Dr. Askren, my plastic surgeon, says he’s seeing more and more younger women who’ve had breast cancer coming to him for reconstruction. Younger women tend to think breast cancer only happens to “older” women like me.
   “A lot of people think this can’t happen to them. But your breasts are right there in front of you. You need to be checking for lumps and bumps all the time. It’s a crying shame,” he says. “Because the earlier you diagnose and treat, the longer the survival rate.
   “The most important thing is breast self-examination and mammograms,” he points out. “If your BFF gets breast cancer, they won’t be your BFF forever.”
   I know women who are reluctant to go to the doctor. I know women who haven’t been to a gynecologist in years and in some cases, never. I know women my age who have never had a mammogram.

Empower yourself to look after yourself
   It’s been a tough, long road. But if you saw me today, you’d never know I had breast cancer. There’s no sign on my chest. No pink ribbon on my lapel. Friends say I’ve been so strong, and so courageous. What choice did I have? I suppose I could have curled up in a cocoon and made myself miserable. Perkins says he sees plenty of women who do just that.
    “Some days I feel like I’m more priest or counselor than oncologist, but it comes with the job…. It is a tough road. I have to be my patients’ cheerleader; I love you guys,” he says.
   “But I also have to be honest,” he says when I ask about those who won’t make it.
   “We are so fortunate in the U.S. to have the facilities for mammograms. In Cambodia, for instance, the entire country has only two mammogram centers. Here, any woman can go to any center for a mammogram at any time; you don’t even need a doctor’s order. There’s really no excuse... Again it’s all about priorities.”

Empower yourself to look after yourself
   Breast cancer is on the rise, Perkins says, but that’s because it’s being detected earlier. The survival rate is higher than any other cancer.
   “You’d be amazed at the number of women walking around with Stage 4 breast cancer,” Perkins says. “Stage 4 breast cancer patients live for years now; it’s not like Stage 4 with other cancers.”
More women are being cured. Advocacy groups (mostly women) that push Congress to appropriate money for research are helping to cure breast cancer. New clinical trials are being performed in oncology centers all over, including here in Perkins’ own California Oncology center.
   “Thank God that women are advocates for the community. If it was up to men, we’d still be swinging from trees and scratching our heads,” he says.
   It’s that clinical trial data, he says, that gives him the confidence and knowledge to tell survivors they can decrease their risk for recurrence by doing just this: Exercise three hours a week, maintain a low-fat diet and have no more than three alcoholic drinks a week. A direct result of clinical trials, he says women with breast cancer who follow this advice can see a 20% reduction in the risk of recurrence. “That’s more than I can achieve with chemotherapy, which is 6%,” he says.
   So it’s important for women to continue to be the loud speakers for funding more breast cancer research. But it’s equally important for women to take the bull by the horns when it comes to their own health.

Empower yourself to look after yourself
   For me, 2011 has me moving to the final stages of the reconstruction of my breasts. Askren, my perfectionist of a plastic surgeon and a doctor, much like Perkins, who gets to know his patients in a way that can only make you feel better all around, has improved my self-image. If you’ve gone through a mastectomy, you know how devastating it can be to lose your breasts, no matter the size. Fortunately, plastic surgeons have found fascinating ways to recreate women’s breasts. It’s a slow process, but the care and attention of a good plastic surgeon makes a difference.
   “I expect more than my patients do,” says Askren. “I know what will make them happy….Patients sometimes wind up with something better than what they started with and it’s nice to be able to give something back to them. I only wish I could restore more sensibility, rather than the numbness they’re left with.”
   Quality of life can be restored through the miracle of plastic surgery. The seemingly impossible, making nipples out of your own skin (known as nipple origami, in layman’s terms), is a trade secret Askren refuses to reveal. And though I was awake for this surgery, he wouldn’t let me take a peek. The result, after a few months, brings me closer not to the woman I used to be, but the woman I am now.
   I was supposed to get my tattoos last week. (“We don’t call it that,” Askren admonishes me. “It's micropigmentation.”) Askren works with a color chart (just like a paint chip chart) and like a true artist working with a palette, he demonstrates how he’ll use a little bit of this color and a drop of that color to create the areola and color the nipple. “Will it hurt like a regular tattoo?,” I ask. “I don’t know,” he says. “I’ve never had a tattoo.”    Neither have I. This will be my first “micropigmentation.” But wouldn’t you know it...the day of my appointment, the power went out at the doctor’s office. PG&E estimated it could take eight hours to restore. I wanted to ask, “Couldn’t he just do it by candlelight?” (After all, that’s what cavemen did.) But I didn’t think the scheduler would find it funny.
I don’t get upset about these minor setbacks. It’s nothing after what I’ve been through.

Empower yourself to look after yourself

   Soon, the physical portion of my excursion with breast cancer will be over. The mental portion (the worry of recurrence, the questions) will never be over.
   I don’t have the physical strength I had before. I still come home from work and crash, but Perkins says I’m just “more graciously slower... You have your own private view of breast cancer,” he says. “It’s not about narcissism; it’s about humbleness.” He says I’ll take that humbleness and use it to help others. I hope so.
   Today, I look in the mirror and see myself as I’ve always seen myself. Strong, confident, happy, with a husband who has been by my side through it all, a 21-year-old daughter who loves her “mommy” and who will definitely be doing monthly breast self-exams, and a family that supports me in every way possible. Oh, and bigger, perky breasts that give me a boost in self-esteem.
   I look up. Except for the short salt-and-pepper hair. I’ve kept it short and have resisted coloring it. It’s become a kind of silent badge of courage for me, a reminder of what I’ve been through. Just between me and myself — and now you.
   I humbly ask you to do one thing: Empower yourself to look after yourself.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Get out the plunger....

I've been going to physical therapy for ongoing pain in my legs, mostly when I'm standing still, working in the kitchen, shopping... Apparently it stems from my lower back and thankfully, not from some spreading of cancer cells! It hasn't stopped me from exercising because it doesn't hurt when I'm moving at all.

This week the physical therapy took me to a new extreme. I have to admit, I've had a lot of different things done to my body during this whole cancer thing. But plunging....with a plunger, just like the one you use to unplug your toilet??? You've got to be kidding?

That's exactly what they did to me. It was wild and it hurt like hell. But they say it works. First they apply some oil to your skin, then the plunger grabs onto your leg or back...or whatever... and the therapist rolls it around as it's sucking your skin up. It makes you want to scream, which I did. It leaves suction marks on your skin. And you can bruise up, so you've got to ice the area afterward. But it's supposed to loosen the muscle from any skin or scar tissue that is hampering movement or causing pain.

I suppose if it works, it might be a good thing for those who've had surgery and scar tissue develops and tightens the area up. Gee, that's what happened to one of my breasts after my implants were put in. I had to have surgery to have the scar tissue removed. I wonder if the plastic surgeon could have used the "plunger" method? I'll have to ask next time I see him!

I hope this works on my legs. I sure as hell don't want to have to do it again!

Two years....and counting

Yesterday was exactly two years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember it like it was yesterday. I wonder when and if that memory will fade.
These have, no doubt, been the worst two years of my life. Not so much because of the cancer, but because of all the other issues that arise when you face the Big C. The uncertainty, the lingering questions, the fear, the medical bills, the extra expenses, the hassles and aggravation, the way people look at you....it all takes its toll. It doesn't matter how strong you are, how much you fight, how much your survival instincts kick in, it still takes a toll. Things change; we learn to roll with the punches.
Every small change in your body, every little pain, draws your attention. You become so much more aware of your body, so much more aware of every slight change, every little pain. Each one must be checked out. Because you never know...
It's that fear, that uncertainty that will remain with me forever, I suppose.  I don't ever want to hear those words again. But if I do, I'll be better prepared this time. I'll know what questions to ask. I won't be dumbfounded. I'll be informed; I'll be ready. Now, I know what to expect.
Let's just hope and pray those expectations never come into play.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Jumpin' in my bones

   When I started to get pains in my right leg, I naturally worried. Nowadays, every pain puts me on high alert. I mentioned it to my internist, who calmly suggested bursitis. I left it at that till my next visit with the oncologist.
   They ask the same questions as each visit now: "Any pain, any tingling in your hands, legs, feet??" Well, yes, I do have sharp pains and tingling in my legs. But my regular doc said it was just bursitis. "Well," says my great oncologist, "no offense to him, but I know you better. Let's get it checked out to be on the safe side."    And off I go for a bone scan. Just the thought of it made me nervous.
   I went to Florida to see family and old friends just a day after. I wouldn't hear the news till my return. Of course, I tried to hide my fear by drinking and having a great old time with old friends, thinking all along that maybe I'd never get a chance to do this again. I did have a great time and it was wonderful to spend time with family and see some of my best friends. And I have to admit, I was anxious for the bone scan results.
   For a change, luck was on my side. The scan was clear of cancer, but there were some signs of athritis in my lower back. That could be what's causing the leg pain. What it boils down to is "old age." But darn, it hurts like the dickens at times. As all good oncologists do, they never want a cancer patient in pain. So I'm off to physical therapy -- yet again. That I can handle. Been there, done that. But the thought of bone cancer makes me shiver.
   Once you've been through cancer, every little change in your body sends up the red flags. But better to be safe than sorry. Dr. Perkins is right; I feel much better now that we've run the scan and there's nothing there.
   Till the next time I have another pain...or feel a lump...or just don't feel right....

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Damn, damn, damn it all

  Last week as I was reading The Fresno Bee, I opened to the obits and was shocked. My heart dropped. There in front of me, was an obit for a young woman I partnered with on a painting for the Art of Life project (I wrote about it back in 2010 on this very  blog), sponsored by my oncologist, Dr. Chris Perkins. It was about a year and a half ago, January 2010.
  I remember meeting her and hearing her cancer story. She'd been going to Dr. Perkins for about 10 years.  Younger than me and oh so vibrant. Lori Budd. After hearing her tale, told not with sadness, but with a liveliness that I took away with me. I recall vividly how vivacious she was, despite what she'd been through. And I remember her saying, "I told Dr. Perkins that if I'm dying I want to know, and so far, he hasn't told me that, so I'm just living the best I can."
  She left an impression on me. You wouldn't have known at the time that there was anything wrong with her at all. She was working, caring for her family and running a mile a minute through life. It seemed like nothing could stop her. I was impressed with her attitude and grateful to have been paired up with her.
  I remember telling my husband about her and what a great attitude she'd had, facing cancer with no fear, facing recurrences as if it was nothing. Her spirit and vitality couldn't be stopped.
  About 8 years younger than me. A strong professional woman like me. A woman caring for a family, like me. A woman keeping her life together through it all, like me.
  Our painting, titled "We Never Walk Alone," was a hit. It hangs in the hallway at Perkins' office.
  I pray Lori held that thought through it all.
  Damn, that obit hit me hard.


Friday, June 3, 2011

How the heck do they do that?

   My husband and I went as scheduled to the surgery center at 6:20 a.m. This time was far easier; no compression stockings, no IV, not much of anything really. Dr. Askren gave us two nipple tabs to place where we thought they should be. He'd already told us most people are off the mark. But oh, no, not my hubby. He placed them (from memory, he said!). Askren got out his tape measure, marked me up and was amazed. Andy had placed the tabs exactly right! (And I thought he had early Alzheimer's!) That's some memory. A nurse told us one patient pulled out red nipple tassles and put them on. When the doctor came in, he got quite a laugh. I wish I'd thought of that, but then I would have had to find those tassles!
   You're awake during this surgery, but Dr. Askren said they would cover my face, so I wouldn't be able to steal his secrets! I don't want to know how he does it, but the end result is amazing!
   The surgery took about 40 minutes. He numbed me first, but I could feel tugging and pulling as he worked to create the nipples. A lot of snipping as the nurse cut the thread as he stitched and stitched.
   Then, it was up and out of there. Dr. Askren warned that the nipples would look huge, and they do, but they'd shrink down to normal size. He cuts a small piece of the top of a syringe and places it over the nipple to protect from bumping. Now, who would have thought of that?
   It's all so amazing; you have to wonder who came up with this methodology. There's some pain after, but nothing worth complaining about. And I can't walk too fast or I feel it.
   I'm bandaged up to protect it all, but when I first took the bandages off and looked in the mirror, my only thought was: How the heck did he get my skin to stretch and work itself into that? It actually might have been interesting to watch, because it's far too hard to believe. It's a miracle of sorts. I guess Dr. Askren is right: It's an art.
   Now, we wait again for the swelling and nipples to heal. Next stop: My first tattoo!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Up next? Nipple origami

   Tomorrow I head into another surgery, this one minor, to rebuild my nipples. It's an odd concept to begin with; the thought that plastic surgeons can even do such a thing.
   They call it origami, yes, like the paper origami animals you learned to make as a kid, though this time we're not making swans. I'm not really sure how they ever came up with this concept, but it's far better than earlier alternatives, which I won't even go into here, because it's just too crazy to even think about. And probably most women just avoided it.
    Today's methodology is fascinating. Somehow, Dr. Askren will cut my skin, do some tucking and manipulating -- and fashion a nipple. It's an art (his own words) and I'll bet it is.
   It requires only a local anesthetic (I could drive myself home, the nurse said, but she'd rather I bring someone). What I can't imagine is being awake and aware during the process. What if I have an itch? What if I move? Will the good doctor be talking to me as he performs this intricate procedure? Will there be a mirror so I can see what's going on? Do I really want to see? While I'm fascinated that they can even perform such a feat, I'm not sure how I'll feel while it's going on.
   Dr. Askren prepped me for what part I'd be involved in. When I enter the surgery center, they'll give me two round tabs (like the tabs they use for an EKG) to place where I think my nipples should go. Then, he said, he'll come in and place them where he thinks they should go. Guess who wins?
   I'm totally confident he knows what he's doing. After all, it is an art and he's a perfectionist. So I'll leave it in his trusty hands.
   I'll let you know how it goes. Hopefully, the doctor didn't overindulge this holiday weekend and I won't end up lopsided!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Capping off graduation

   A big sigh of relief.
   My daughter graduated college in mid-May back East. The trip required the lengthy flight, followed by swelling of my arm and hand, packing up 19 cartons and shipping them back to Cali by mail, loading up the car with the essential items (snowboard, saddle, boots, electric guitar & amp) and shipping it via auto trailer. (I'd pay the price upon return home with extra visits to the lymphedema therapist.)
   And then finally, graduation.
   My daughter, who has always had a need to be different, decided she'd decorate her cap for the outdoor graduation on the campus front lawn. To my surprise, when we went to Michaels to get the necessary supplies, she immediately gravitated toward pink rhinestones and a pink glittery breast cancer ribbon. Nothing else even occurred to her.
   I couldn't have been prouder. I have to admit I was a little nervous about whether the school actually would allow the decorating of caps, but she didn't care. "Mom, I can't imagine they wouldn't let me walk just because I put this on my cap. After all, I'm doing this for my Mom!"
   And sure enough, she walked, graduating summa cum laude (much to our surprise and hers!), and standing out amongst the sea of graduates in a glittery cap and gown.

Wow! A mom who has survived breast cancer couldn't be more proud.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Back to physical therapy

   I'm going back to physical therapy Monday with a lymphedema specialist. Lymphedema is unfortunately one of those things you never really conquer. It's a result of the removal of lymph nodes that had cancer in them during my bilateral mastectomy. I went through months of it after my surgery just to be able to lift my left arm up. I went through all the wrapping of the arm, the sleeves, the night sleeves. I've got a plastic box full of stuff.
   This time, it will be different.
   I've had pain in my left side, just to the side and bottom of my breast, for a few months now. Once I lay down, it's difficult -- and painful -- to get back up. Something's going on with the muscles used for this type of movement. A shot to relieve the pain would only help temporarily. So Dr. Perkins is sending me back for some physical therapy to see if it will help relieve the pain. It's almost like the difficulty I had after the mastectomy, lifting the upper portion of my body.
   When I told Dr. Askren that I was going to do this, he said he was sorry he didn't think of that himself. He knows if anyone can help, it will be this particular therapist.
   They tell me Julie Cash works miracles.
    I'm counting on it.