Cellulitis Infection – My Cancer Journey

During Bill’s hospital stays, I developed cellulitis infection at the lumpectomy incision. Whenever I walked or moved a certain way, I would hear the glug, glug sounds like water in a balloon. This was more unnerving than the redness developing in my left breast.

At my post surgical doctor’s appointment, my surgeon examined my breast and frowned. She said cellulitis was more common than she liked and she said the sounds I was hearing was fluid building up. She said this is something my body was doing to heal. She said she would give me a prescription for an antibiotic for the cellulitis.

I was told to lie on my side while she examined the incisions. Then she told me she would be squeezing out the fluid. I just about passed out. It was the squishing sound I was hearing that did me in. Bill stood up and held my hand. He watched. I did not. My doctor managed to squeeze out a lot of fluid. It did not hurt. It just grossed me out. When my doctor found out that Bill had been a corpsman with the marines, she was happy to show him how to take care of my breast.

It was during this visit that we asked again about the surgery. The tumor had been at 1.9cm and had been successfully removed. Four lymph nodes had been removed. Two of them were diseased. She did not know if the cancer had gone elsewhere. I was scheduled to see the radiation oncologist and the medical oncologist. I was scheduled to see my surgeon again so that she could check on my incision. I was told I was a candidate for chemo. Chemo and radiation could not start until my incision was healed.

For someone who has not needed to see a doctor except for physicals and perhaps a couple times through the winter, suddenly needing doctor appointments three times per week is not exciting.

Bill’s Journey during My Cancer Journey

The neurosurgery PA and NP kept Bill in the hospital until Tuesday. He was told he could not go back to work for approximately 4 weeks and could not drive. Great.

He was given prescriptions and told that the hairline fracture at the back of his skull would heal in approximately 3 weeks. The subdural hematoma would heal in approximately 4 to 6 weeks.

Bill began throwing up Tuesday night. He did not stop. I lay in bed and listened to his vomiting, not being able to offer more help than that and I was surprised that I was not hurling with him. Watching or hearing someone vomit is not a strong suit of mine but I managed to hold it together. Mid morning Bill called the neurosurgeons about the vomiting and he was told to go to emergency.

Oh joy! That afternoon at the emergency department was like a gong show. Bill was put on a bed in the hallway under direct lights by the nursing station. He was given morphine and nausea medicine and told that he would be taken for a ct scan. Bill slept and I tried to keep my eyes on my phone, playing card games while patients were being wheeled in and out of emergency rooms surrounding us. One young man who was lieing in a bed close to Bill needed stitches to his chest. The young nurse sat on a chair beside the bed and proceeded to stitch him up in the hallway.

Bill was taken for his ct scan and when he returned, we were told that he would be admitted to the hospital. Seven hours later, he was settled in a room. While the bleeding had not increased, it seemed to have settled. However, his blood pressure was high and the neurosurgeons wanted to keep an eye on him. I sighed and went home.

Bill was kept in the hospital for 10 days. I was glad he was there. Every day seemed to be a different issue. One day his blood pressure was high. The next day his blood pressure was fine but his sodium levels were very low. It would swing back and forth between the blood pressure and his sodium level every day. But finally his blood pressure settled while his sodium level remained low. On the day we decided to go home, the neurosurgery team was good to let him go but the medical team did not want to release him because his sodium level was at 129. They wanted to wait until it was 130.

We went home with the agreement that he would have his blood checked Friday and again Monday. On Friday, his sodium level was 130. On Monday it was 134. Now the doctors were happy. Bill is still on disability. He cannot drive. While the pain in his head is not as severe, his dizzy spells are continuing. Bill’s head injury and bleeding in the brain outranks my cancer. Can you imagine that?

Things Go Bump In The Night – My Cancer Journey

I slept the rest of the day after my lumpectomy. The next day, Friday, I was still feeling the effects of the surgery. I told you I was a lightweight.

I was still urinating blue. I took a picture of it and sent it to my kids. They were not really impressed. I told them I could have sent them a picture of my Madonna boob which they really appreciated that I hadn’t. They were impressed with my blue pee.

Bill was extremely restless Friday night. By the time he decided to go to bed, I couldn’t sleep and I went out to the family room. At 3am, he woke me up, told me he had to watch a television show. He didn’t know what it was, but he had to watch it. He sent me in to the bedroom, and he looked for what, I don’t know.

When I woke up in the morning, he had fallen asleep on the couch. I turned off the television and made breakfast. I was not feeling well and Bill was quiet when he finally woke up. He had a small bruise at the corner of his eye which I noticed but didn’t say anything.

Early Sunday morning, Bill woke me up told me to look at his face. There were large  bruised circles around his eyes. I got up and told him I would take him to emergency. We both got dressed and we left in his car.

We were taken in to emergency rather quickly. Bill was examined and they then said they needed to take him for a ct scan. He came back from his scan and we were told he had a fracture in the back of his skull and had bleeding on the brain. Bill was immediately sent to the main hospital in Charlotte.

The doctor asked Bill if had fallen. Bill swore he could not remember falling. Although something nagged at me. Bill had been extremely restless Friday night. I do remember hearing something in my sleep Friday night. I am certain he had fallen that night. We have laminate flooring on top of the cement pad of our house.

I followed the ambulance to the main hospital in tears. Once we got to the hospital, Bill was taken up to NICU. While I was waiting for him to get settled, I texted all his family members to let them know what was happening.

Neurosurgery did further scans to make sure he wouldn’t have a stroke from the bleeding or spasms. The outcome was good. No stroke and he would be given medication to make sure he wouldn’t have seizures. The doctors again questioned the hairline fracture in the back of the skull. Bill again swore he did not remember falling. I was not surprised by that.

For the time being, Bill would be kept in the hospital and monitored. We were told that nothing would be done for the fracture. The fracture would heal on its own within 3 to 4 weeks. The bleeding would just resolve itself. He would have severe headaches. He was given several different medications. By night time, I went home exhausted, wondering what tomorrow would bring.

Genetic Counselling Results – My Cancer Journey

By the end of July, the young woman in genetic counselling called me (you would think I would remember everyone’s names). The results were back for the ovarian and breast cancer genes. It was all negative. I was not at risk for ovarian or breast cancer. Sigh of relief.

Now they would test my blood for other cancer risks. This would take another week or two. But now I was in the clear for a lumpectomy. I shouldn’t say I was a little disappointed about not having the mastectomy, should I? Mastectomies are radical procedures. Women can still get breast cancer after mastectomies. The cancer will just present itself in the chest wall.

I was very happy with the outcome. This would mean that my daughters wouldn’t have to get themselves tested. They were pretty much in the clear. However, I told them that I wanted them to be diligent with their care. I want them to be on top of all of this. I told them again that if I hadn’t had the mammogram, the tumor would not have been discovered until it was much larger. At this point, it was all manageable. Who knows how it could have turned out?

I called my surgeon’s office and let them know to schedule me for a lumpectomy. The surgeon wanted to do it the following week. But, we had scheduled Bill’s surgery for the following week. I told them to schedule my lumpectomy for the week after. I was fairly certain that Bill would be recovered from his knee surgery by then. August 17th.

It was all becoming real. Realer? Not really. I was still in disbelief. I just couldn’t look at myself and think, I have breast cancer. I just wasn’t there.

Genetic Counselling – My Cancer Journey

My next appointment was with the technician for genetic counselling. I was told I was a candidate for genetic counselling due to my father’s sister having ovarian cancer.

It was then explained to me that they can test 9 different genes for an indication of breast or ovarian cancer. I was told that should I test positive, then my daughters would be at risk for breast and/or ovarian cancer. They would need to have mammograms and be tested as well.  I was also told that as well as the 9 different genes for breast or ovarian cancer, they could also test approximately 50 other genes for other types of cancer. From what I remember, it was colon cancer and a number of other ones. The technician said that the tests for breast or ovarian cancer would be done first and should I choose to be tested for the other cancers, it could be done later. All of this would be done with a simple blood sample.

The technician spent a fair amount of time explaining the entire procedure to me and asked if I had any questions. I had a few but the procedure sounded simple. The testing would take up to 3 weeks as the sample would be sent to a laboratory in California.

I agreed to the testing. The results of this testing would then help me with my decision on lumpectomy or mastectomy. I also wanted to have more information for my children. This testing would then ease my daughters’ minds. However, I had emphasized with them that I still wanted them to be diligent in their annual physicals and getting the appropriate tests at the appropriate times.

Blood was drawn and more waiting for results. The technician said she would call as soon as the results came in. Waiting. The waiting and the unknown. So difficult.

Taking Care of Bill – My Cancer Journey

This is the love of my life. The wonderful man I married on June 24th. Bill is my dream come true.

Last year in July, after many years of suffering, Bill had both knees replaced. I promised to take care of him during his recovery. I was loving, kind, but strict. I made certain he did all the exercises the physical therapist gave him. I took him to all of his appointments. It was a painful recovery but Bill did very well. Unfortunately, he developed scar tissue in both knees.

By January, he was truly not happy. I told him then to see his surgeon. He did and that is when the surgeon told him he had scar tissue. The procedure to scrape out the scar tissue would be done through laparoscopy. An easy enough procedure and would be done on an outpatient procedure. Bill decided to wait.

I wanted the procedure done as soon as possible. His legs kept swelling every day. I would massage them every night to ease the pain and the swelling. Still he waited.

Then I got the news about my breast cancer. Bill was now more determined than ever to hold off on his procedure so that we could focus on my health issues. I was really annoyed. How could someone who could barely manage to get up from a sitting position take care of me? I wanted him to be able to chase me around the house. And catch me. At this point, the only way he would catch me is if I ran into his arms. And with that, he would probably groan in pain.

I pushed and, okay, nagged. He finally decided to go ahead with the procedure. I told him we had to wait for all these other tests to come in before my lumpectomy so we might as well get his knees fixed. His knees were fixed. After the surgery, when he pushed himself out of bed, there were no clicking noises in his knee. It was silent. Oh my goodness! This was awesome. Wonderful. And since his surgery, his legs no longer have swelling issues. He misses the leg massages and I will break down every once in a while to massage them. (I get a thrill out of this myself.)

But now we could focus better on my health issues, right? No. Wrong.

Lumpectomy or Mastectomy – My Cancer Journey

A word of advice to anyone starting the breast cancer journey – DO NOT look up lumpectomy or mastectomy on the internet. I mean, if you want to cause yourself a heart attack, stroke, panic attacks, shrieking fits of fear or complete and total nausea, then by all means look it up.

That was my mistake. While I was waiting for the results of the genetic testing, I thought I would be smart and look up lumpectomy or mastectomy. Well, you should know by now what kind of pictures would be posted. The most horrific cases are posted, dontcha know?

After being traumatized by the pictures, I managed to convince myself that those pictures were just ridiculous. I was joking with friends about seriously considering a mastectomy because then I could get smaller, perkier boobs. A real bonus for my new husband, right?

Someone must have heard my shrieks of disgust because my nurse navigator called me soon after that. She told me that the pictures posted are the worst cases and were from years ago. Meagan told me that my surgeon was very good at not leaving my breast deformed should I go with the lumpectomy. I would just be left with an incision scar. No misshapen breast. No lopsided anything. No one, except my husband, would see anything different.

Meagan went on to explain that with a mastectomy, a pad would be inserted under the skin after the breasts are removed. The skin would stretch to accommodate the pad and I could choose the size. This procedure would take a few months to complete. I was assured that my surgeon would fully explain either procedure when I made my decision. Meagan also told me that neither procedure was painful, merely uncomfortable.

Panic attack soothed and shrieking fits stopped. Waiting. I am not a very patient person. Perhaps God was, yet again, giving me a life lesson on patience.

Wire or seed study – my cancer journey

I was told that Levine Cancer Institute is doing a study on wire or seed implant for women who have breast cancer. I really didn’t understand what was all going on with this but the surgeon I am seeing said that other institutes have done studies on the benefits of one or the other. However, Levine wanted to do their own study. I agreed to be a part of the study.

I met with the technician in charge of the study. She explained the differences to me. A wire is placed into the area of the breast where the tumor is located. This is done when the tumor is fairly small. The wire helps the surgeon locate the exact location of the tumor so that it is easier to remove. This procedure is done the day of surgery and it is done with a lumpectomy.

The seed is a fairly small tag that is put into the area of the tumor. This procedure is done a few days prior to surgery. Again this is done for a lumpectomy. Both procedures are painless. A numbing agent is injected into the area of the breast which feels more like a bee sting. Then the seed or the wire is implanted.

I told the technician that I was going for genetic counselling and depending on the outcome, I would then make my decision on either lumpectomy or mastectomy. I told her should I go ahead with the lumpectomy, I would agree to the study. She gave me her phone number and wished me well.

This can’t be happening. I am still in disbelief. I really have cancer? Really?

The Cancer Journey

Bill and I met with the surgeon last week. I thought I was ready for it and I thought I was doing fine. However, the closer we got to the door of the office, the more reluctant I was to go in. I actually stopped for a second before entering the doors.

The cancer institute I am going to has a good reputation. Also, the surgeon I am seeing has a breast oncology fellowship. I feel I am in very good hands. The surgeon examined me and couldn’t even feel the tumor. Really good news. My husband, Bill, has a good doctor friend who does breast surgery and has a fellowship in oncology. We have asked him for a second opinion although he has said that the cancer institute I am going to has good people.

I have two options. A lumpectomy with radiation or a mastectomy. I was told to take my time and think about it. Since my father’s sister died of ovarian cancer and we have cancer history on my mother’s side (but we are uncertain what the cancer was), I am going for genetic counselling. That is happening today. I have decided to wait until I get the results of this counselling before I make my decision.

It was also suggested I go on a clinical trial for drug treatments for reoccurrence. Since the percent chance for reoccurrence in lumpectomies and mastectomies are very close, a lumpectomy would seem in order. But it all depends on the genetic counselling.

Well, I am off for my appointments. Through all of this, I will keep riding my beautiful horse, walking Bill’s dogs, take care of our house, keep working on my novels and loving.

By the way, I have just sent my second novel, You Are Mine, to an editor for one more round of editing before self publishing. In the mean time, I can work on my third novel, a supernatural story. I will keep you up to date.

I Have Cancer – Now What?

I go every year for my annual physical. When I turned 50, I scheduled first a mammogram, then a colonoscopy. Mammograms are a piece of cake compared to the vile, gooey stuff you have to drink in preparation for the colonoscopy. But these things need to be done in order to be certain of your health. Especially when all your relatives live overseas, your mother has dementia and no one knows anything about health histories.

For the last four years, every year irregularities have been found in my right breast so I have had to go back for a better look. They check things out, pat me on the head and say everything is fine.

Until this year. Except this time it was the left breast. I should have known. How is it that a person knows before the technician or doctor says anything? I should have known when the technician took more xrays and then took me right away for an ultrasound. And when the technician said that the radiologist would be coming in to take a look at the ultrasound and would give me my options, I wasn’t surprised.

The needle biopsy wasn’t bad at all. I was told I couldn’t take aspirin but I could take Valium. I told the technicians I wouldn’t be taking Valium because I would probably fall asleep and not get to the office for the procedure. The doctor who did the biopsy was very pleasant and the two women technicians were wonderful. It was done on a Friday and I was told that I would get a phone call with the results by Wednesday.

When my doctor called and left a message on Tuesday, I already knew it was cancer. My doctor told me it was treatable. Since I had asked during the biopsy, I had been told that my lymph nodes had been checked and they were fine. I feel very confident that this will be treated successfully. Now I am just waiting for an appointment with the oncologist.

I am very much in disbelief about this. I feel very healthy. I have been losing weight and watching my diet very carefully. This seems so silly. How can I have cancer when I feel good? I feel tired but getting up at 5:30 or 6am every morning and having the busy schedule I have would do that to a person.

I started looking up breast cancer on the internet and that was a really stupid thing to do. I stopped quickly. No sense in adding all the fear factors into this. And when my son suggested pot or cbd extract, I just rolled my eyes. My son has graduated from law school. I asked him if he wanted me thrown in jail so that I could be his first client? Ever the helpful mom, right? Sorry, I don’t think I want to be that helpful.

My doctor told me that I should hear something from the oncologist within a couple of days. It has been two days and I called to check in. I did not appreciate the whining in the voice of the receptionist when she told me they had three business days to get back to me. I felt like asking her how she would enjoy waiting three business days if she had been diagnosed with cancer. But that isn’t me because I am still in disbelief. I mean, really? How could I have cancer?

I have my faith in God. I have a plaque that states ” Lord help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that you and I together can’t handle.” I could use your prayers.