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
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