Cancer treatments done, now what?

by Tuesday, September 16th, 2014Breast Cancer25 comments

I didn’t know what to expect when I got done with the chemo, surgery, and radiation. I was hoping to get back to normal. For the most part, I guess we have. We’ve been able to get together with family for birthday celebrations and going away parties and festivals. After taking a year off, I am back to taking care of our wonderful great nieces Nadine and Zoey on Tuesdays. But I have also spent more time at the plastic surgeon’s office than I ever thought I would. It’s funny — when we first met him, I really didn’t think we would be in contact with him so much. We have really developed a nice relationship with Dr. Hijjawi. Sometimes we talk about movies, old trivia games, and dining out.
Birthday party at Regner Park in West Bend, Wisconsin
Most of my days lately have been spent in physical therapy. Since having the expander on my right breast removed, the skin that was radiated has become so very tight. When I first started, I couldn’t lift my arm higher than making a right turn signal. Now I am almost able to get it straight up over my head before I feel any real discomfort.

I went for my annual physical a week ago. My oncologist told me it’s very important to get a pelvic exam annually, due to the fact that I am on tamoxifen. Tamoxifen is what I will be on now for the next 5 years as a hormone replacement. Because my cancer was estrogen and progesterone positive, tamoxifen is the prescribed maintenance drug. Tamoxifen is helpful in preventing breast cancer, but one of the side effects is that it can cause endometrial cancer, otherwise known as the lining of the uterus or womb. In researching, I found out that the longer you are on it, the greater the chances. I have only been on Tamoxifen since the end of my chemo treatments in February of this year. So when I went for my pelvic exam, I complained about the pain I had while my doctor was examining me. She thought, just to be on the safe side, that she would order a pelvic ultrasound. I had that done last week and was very happy to get the good news less than 24 hours later that everything looks normal.

Cut flowers in a vase in the kitchen window
In the meantime, I noticed a small lump under my left arm (the tumor-free side, where I still have a breast expander) while showering the other day. I brought this up with my plastic surgeon, and he said, “Let’s get you in for an ultrasound.” He thought maybe it was just a stitch where he attached the expander. Last Friday, I had that ultrasound done, and they found that two of my lymph nodes are reactive. Dr. Hijjawi said he has seen this in a small group of women with expanders, so they want me to come back in a month to have another ultrasound and, if needed, at that time they will do a fine needle aspiration. That’s where they extract fluid from the lymph node and have that tested. If the lymph node looks normal, then of course there is no need for the biopsy. So from now on, I am taking advice from the great Warren Zevon: I am going to “enjoy every sandwich”.

One of the payoffs of putting all my information out on the World Wide Web is that I have been put in touch with so many wonderful people who, sadly, have been faced with a cancer diagnosis. We received a phone call from a man and woman in Greece who are going through what Mark and I have been through, and thanked us for sharing our story. And since then Mark and I have become Facebook friends with them.

I have also been touched by the personal connections that I have made with a number of women around the world. I have new friends from Chicago, Maine, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Belgium, and elsewhere. I have had deep connections with these women. We correspond through blog comments, YouTube, and email, and I can’t believe how much love I have felt for each of them. They have lifted me up when I was down. I would have never thought I could have such a strong feeling for someone I never even met or spoke to. I love this about the Internet — how it can bring people together who probably would never have met. I love all of these women like my closest girlfriends. I hope to meet them someday, so I can put my arms around them and show them how much I have valued sharing some of our deepest feelings.

Backyard garden, August 25, 2014
  1. Betty Jo Dibble

    Thanks for the update!
    Love & miss you

    • Amy Czerniec

      Betty I hope we get to see you this Thanksgiving. We love and miss you too.

  2. karen elderbrook

    thanks amy for the update. you are always in our prayers everyday, as is others that we know are either battling with the diease, or with a love one that has it. As with some they have lost the battle.We feel blessed that we still have you and are improving. Just know how much we love you both.

    • Amy Czerniec

      Karen I am truly blessed to have you for my big sister. I always feel unconditional love from you like I always received from our mom.

      Thank you for that, I love you.

  3. Marianne Germinaro

    Glad to see you are doing well and back to watching my grand daughters. They missed you so much and would often ask about you and how you were doing.
    I pray that all will go well for you down the road and that your lymphnodes ( not sure how to spell that) will get a good reading in a few months.
    Love your sister,

    • Amy Czerniec


      Your babies are the highlight of my week. I missed them so much and it melts my heart when they come running to greet me when I pick them up at school. We have so much fun together.

      Thanks for all of your love and support during this crazy year.

      I love you sista.

  4. Linda Surratt

    First of all, I am jealous over your great looking garden! I need to take some notes to improve mine next year! Most of all, thanks for keeping us up to date. So glad you and others are reaching out to support each other. Hugs to you and Mark()

    • Amy Czerniec

      Hello my far away friend,

      I have to say my garden might have really benefited from the worm castings that we added to the soil. I think the kale, swiss chard, basil, parsley and sage all loved it. Oh yeah and maybe the good amount of rain we had.

      I hope you are well, I miss our times together.

  5. Jean

    Life is so rich and full. We just don’t know how we will learn things. Seems like you and Mark gained much and came in contact with real fear. Love you!

    • Amy Czerniec

      Jean, It’s nice hearing from you.

      Yeah we never know what’s out there in life for us, and yes you do end up learning a thing or two.

      Love you too.

  6. Lynn

    So glad you’re back to watching the kids, that’s wonderful! It’s great that you’re able to connect with women who are going through something similar. PS: you’re backyard is amazing!!!!!!

    • Amy Czerniec

      Hey Lynn,

      Too bad we didn’t get to hook up at Oktoberfest, I know that’s something you guys go to. Yeah that was a pretty great photo that Mark took of our backyard.

  7. gloria

    Thanks for your update. Keep up your great attitude.

    • Amy Czerniec

      Gloria it’s nice to hear from you. I hope you are well. I think of you and Jim when Mark and I walk at Sanders Park. :)

  8. Jennifer DeCristoforo

    Hi Amy,
    Once again you’ve offered us a beautiful entry with your updates and progress. You are such an ongoing inspiration with your ability to enjoy time with friends and loved ones and partake in soul-satisfying activities while managing your health needs (which can be so draining- no pun intended, unpleasant and scary). It’s a privilege to be your friend!

    • Amy Czerniec

      Thanks for checking in Jen. I always love hearing from you and hope that your treatments continue to move along as smoothly as possible. Know that I think of you often and also feel grateful for our connection.

  9. Nancy Widener

    Amy…First let me say how absolutely gorgeous your garden is looking! I am so jealous! It’s just grown leaps and bounds from earlier pictures! You definitely have a green thumb!

    I was thinking about my cancer (and your cancer) the other day, and I’ve come to realize that this “journey” we’re on doesn’t necessarily have a destination…in the sense of a place we get to, get off and then consider our journey completed. For me, this is definitely a journey, but one I’m not sure I’ll ever finish. I mean, I have completed the active treatment portion of my journey…but now I’m traveling this road of breast cancer survivorship! I so look forward to this portion of the journey…meeting new people and just celebrating survivorship and living my life. The thought that it can come back never really leaves me….but I’m living my life “aware” of the fact that life is really fragile and is full of blessings all over the place!

    I’m so happy that you’ve completed your active phase of treatment and can now move on to the reconstruction! You are always smiling, Amy, and it’s truly contagious! When I watch your videos, I laugh and giggle and tear up with you!

    I’m sorry about the little lump you’ve got. I hope it’s not an infected stitch or anything that’s going to cause delay for your surgery. Did you ever watch Saturday Night Live years ago when Gilda Radner was on? Well, her character Rosanne Rosannadana used to say, “It’s always something”! Do you ever feel that way? If it’s not the chemo making you sick, it’s the radiation burning your skin. If it’s not the white cell count being too low, it’s fatigue so bad you can hardly move! If it’s not the physical therapy trying to give us more range of motion….it’s the possibility of an infected stitch! For several years, I’ve made that quote my motto….”It’s always something”! And that IS a good thing! I look forward to hearing about your ultrasound!
    Oh and by the way, your nieces are just adorable!

    • Amy Czerniec

      Hello Nancy,

      Thank you for your wonderful comment. I couldn’t have said it better. We will always have that fear of the cancer returning but I realize that’s life. One is never truly cured. If you don’t die from cancer now chances are it will get you in the end. We just need to live life one day at a time.

      The role that I am in right now is different from when I was being treated. Like I said in my post I have been grateful for the connections I have made while on this journey and know I will continue to make more.

      I do remember Rosanne Rosannadana and what she used to say. :) That’s a very good motto to go by.

      Our garden did turn out quite nice this year. I might chalk it up to the worm castings we used in the beds.

      Yeah I think my nieces are pretty cute too, and feel so blessed to be part of their lives again on a weekly basis.

  10. Angela

    Another lovely blog entry… MAN, your yard is amazing. Its like a peaceful escape. I enjoy looking at it from my window :) Glad to hear positive results from your last tests… p.s. that picture of you and Mark is GREAT! love you!

    • Amy Czerniec

      Hey there Angela,

      Our yard has been very enjoyable this year. Too bad we didn’t get a chance to have you come by and visit with your little angel. Right now it’s maybe not the peaceful retreat with all of the bees flying around. :)

      • Angela

        haha, and she’s already been stung once this summer already :( We’ll just have to get together sometime this fall for some indoor enjoyment :)

  11. Katerine


    I was checking your page regularly for an update and here it finally is. I’m so glad to hear from you!

    I love the video. Your hair has grown in really nicely and it’s growing pretty fast now if I compare the footage from August 3rd with September 13th. It’s still curly, but slightly less so towards of the end of the video; the style suits you, but I can imagine you want your straight hair back. Or do you?

    I have this soft down all over my head now. I’m not going to shave it; I’m too glad to have some covering. Did you shave your head? I can’t remember whether you did or not.

    Your garden looks beautiful, especially the vegetable patch. Isn’t it wonderful how food can also be ornamental and pretty to look at. What I particularly love are the vegetable smells can drift in the air when you water them.

    Then the reactive lymph nodes: it’s probably just a reaction to the expanders. After all, your body is bound to react in some way to this foreign material being inserted for such a long time. All in all, I think you look really healthy and it’s almost impossible to imagine you’ve gone through so much the past year.

    Lovely also to see all these events and people in your daily life; makes it so interesting to watch your videos. I will try and do something similar soon.

    lots of hugs,

    • Amy Czerniec


      It is always so wonderful to hear from you. I know it had been a while since my last video. I really need to get on a tighter schedule.

      I am getting tired of my self complaining about my hair. Yes it is coming in pretty fast but it doesn’t seem to be straightening out as much as I would like. I’ve been told I need to be patient. I really need to be grateful just to have hair. So stop your complaining Amy!!

      I did have my head shaved at a salon when it started falling out and then I shaved it myself a couple of times while I was still on chemo. It’s good to hear your hair is coming back. I found myself constantly touching my head cause it was so soft, and it still is.

      Our veggies have been great. I know what you mean about the smells. I especially love the smell of the basil and dill.

      About the lymph nodes, I am not freaking out too much. Like you said my body has been through so much in the past 6 months, of course those nodes will be reactive.

      It makes me happy to hear you are entertained by our videos. Sometimes I think maybe nobody really cares what I am doing. I guess no one is forced to watch if they don’t want to. :)

      I hope you have been feeling strong. I was so jealous that last time I saw you running in your video. I just haven’t felt up to it. Of course I wasn’t jealous of how hard you were being pushed. :) It does feel so good though when you are done with something so strenuous.

      Take care my dear friend.


  12. Gregory Berg

    Amy- Thank you for this update and for everything else that you have shared about this road that you and Mark have traveled together. I admire your openness – your generosity – your appreciativeness – and your courage. And I am so happy to hear (and not at all surprised) that so many people have been powerfully touched by your story, including many people on the same road. I’m especially glad to hear that they have reached out to you and Mark to express their appreciation.

    To better days ahead …. GB

    • Amy Czerniec

      Thank you so much for your kind words Greg. I guess we never know what effect our experiences will have on others. I will always cherish the connections that I have made and I hope to continue making.


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