Now that I am a breast cancer survivor, whenever I think about that journey, I am startled. I am a survivor. It is done. It is over. But is it?
While I was going through the treatments, I just felt like I was at a distance. It felt like it was happening to someone else. Not me. I never once was upset or cried about the situation. Wait. I did cry. When I was losing my hair in the shower. I did cry then. But I took care of that when I had my head shaved.
For the most part, I was there but I was not there. It never occurred to me once that the cancer would kill me. It was just all so — not a part of me, almost. I had too much to live for. My beautiful children. My wonderful grandchildren that I wanted to cuddle, and hug, and love and kiss. My new husband who I adore. And my pets. Roscoe, Vesper, Krissy and Bojo. And Gizmo, my beautiful American quarterhorse mare.
Gizmo knew her mom was sick and she took care of me. I took care of her when she had foundered and there was a chance of losing her. But I never thought of that. I went to the barn every day and took care of her. I think that was when our bond became inseparable. I took care of her and then she took care of me. Wanting to take care of Gizmo and our cats and dog and my husband is what kept me going. Wanting to see my children and grandchildren kept me going and kept my thoughts away from the what ifs. I had the best health care team taking care of me and I put complete faith and trust into them. I was never scared.
But now my husband is going through a health concern that has me scared. I am trying to stay strong and hold it together for him. Thankfully the proper tests have been done and now we are just waiting for the results. But I am scared. I can’t lose this man. I am praying. I cannot lose this man. I am so in love with him. I never thought I would find a man I love this much.
I managed the cancer issue for myself. But what if? I can’t lose him. I just cannot lose this special, wonderful man. I will keep praying. Take me God. Not this wonderful man who has gone through so much.
I have been wearing my sandals off and on as the weather has been getting warmer but I have been extremely self conscious of my toes. After making the decision to have my big toenails removed, I have been not comfortable wearing sandals.
I used to go every six weeks or so for manicures and pedicures. I loved being able to choose different colors. Getting leg massages with the pedicures was so relaxing. But after being diagnosed with breast cancer, manicures and pedicures stopped. I was concerned with the cleanliness of nail spas and also the chemicals used in the nail polish.
Now that I am a breast cancer survivor, I just decided that manicures and pedicures was a luxury I did not need. But I did yearn for a pedicure. Just not with these toes.
However, my beautiful daughter wanted to go for a pedicure and asked me to come along. I did but I was nervous and so self conscious. The salon we went to was very clean and all the tools were in plastic wrap. I told the technician that I was a breast cancer survivor and that I did not have toenails on my big toes. I told her not to do anything with them – just paint them.
My daughter told me I didn’t have to be nervous and just relax. I don’t think I relaxed at all but I picked out a really nice lavender color and watched the nail technician for a while and then tried to concentrate on the television that was playing CNN.
How many people have cried after a pedicure? I almost did because my nails look normal. It looks like I have normal toenails. Who woulda thunk? For those of you who have all your toenails, this is a big deal for me. This has just made me cherish what I have. We don’t realize the gifts we have until they are gone. And for something as simple as toenails, for a woman, it is a big deal to once again have pretty feet.
It has almost been one year since my last radiation treatment. May, 2018. I am a breast cancer survivor. But it never leaves you.
Somehow going through cancer really changes things and even though all the doctors have said you are done with the treatments, there are still lingering effects.
I have to stay on Exemestane for 5 years. Since my cancer was estrogen based, the Exemestane gives a higher percentage that the cancer will not return. But with the Exemestane comes side effects. So far I only suffer with slight joint pain, a few more headaches and hot flashes. I am on Venlafaxine for depression and it is supposed to help with the hot flashes. Okay. To a small degree.
There are still lingering effects from the chemotherapy. I still have numbness and tingling in my toes. I decided to have both big toenails removed because the Taxol did a number on them. The podiatrist could not guarantee that they would ever be normal. So off they went and it truly does not look that strange. Right now both pinky toenails are black and not looking great. Another cancer survivor told me she had neuropathy in her feet as well and it took 3 years for the feeling to come back.
My hair, on my head, is coming in nicely. I wish it would have come in thick and curly but that didn’t happen. The rest of my body hair is coming back in patches. Now I only have to shave armpits and legs maybe every other month. The eyebrows have come in better and I finally have beautiful eyelashes again. Although I did splurge and buy the Lashbooster from Rodan & Fields. I am really glad I did that.
Then one day I noticed how much larger my right breast was from my left breast. The cancer was in the left breast and so all the radiation was focused on that breast. My doctor told me that it is normal for the area to shrink from radiation. (I should have asked to have radiation done on my belly.) So now I am left with my right breast too big for my bra and the left one barely filling it. I have gone to a plastic surgeon who agreed that there was quite a difference and he could reduce the right one.
But I have had to hold off on that surgery as my lower back is really causing me issues. This is not related to the chemo or radiation. I have always had lower back issues. A spine doctor was referred and off I went. Apparently my L4 & 5 are causing my back pain. The L4 is slipping. I went home considering what to do. Getting them fused together? But then a few days later, I had severe sciatic nerve pain at the back of my right leg and then I had numbness and tingling in the front of my right leg.
I went back to the doctor and was scheduled for an MRI. Now the MRI shows that my L3, 4 & 5 are all compromised and two of them are degenerating. There is also a cyst somewhere in all of this and everything combined is pinching my sciatic nerve. I now have an appointment at the end of the month with the spine doctor. I would like to know from the doctor what is happening and what his recommendations are. I have been doing stretches and yoga exercises to get relief but I am now worried about this silly cyst. Are you understanding my concern?
I have changed to living as much of an organic / natural lifestyle that I can. I have switched to a Paleo diet which I am enjoying. I make sure to take all the supplements my oncologist suggested. I will be starting a garden soon. I have planted a fig,kiwi and goji berry tree. Bill and I are also trying to finish off the landscaping around the house via a great landscape guy. Some things we can do. Others not so much.
I go riding 5 days per week. I love the barn Gizmo lives at and Gizmo has helped me through so much. Equine therapy is the best therapy. And the love I have for my horse keeps me anchored. The farm is in a beautiful setting and being able to just have the sun on my face, the wind in my horse’s mane and smell the good country freshness is my best medication.
In August I had a mammogram done on the right breast. It came back normal. I was then scheduled for a diagnostic mammogram on my left breast two weeks ago. I then had an appointment with the surgeon who did the lumpectomy three days later.
Before the mammogram on the left breast, I thought I was fine. However, when I pulled into the parking lot, I started to shake. I couldn’t believe how nervous I was. I called my best friend as I was starting to hyperventilate. She was able to calm me down. She said it was perfectly normal for me to be nervous.
I went into the appointment, had the mammogram done and then had to wait for the radiologist. I was fine until the wait for the radiologist. What if, kept running through my head. The wait was not long enough for me to get into a real panic attack and hyperventilate. The technician and the radiologist came in and she told me that everything was fine. Because of the lumpectomy, the chemotherapy and the radiation, the breast had changed and they would use this new normal to base future mammograms. I could finally let out a deep breath.
Three days later, I had an appointment with my surgeon. I love my surgeon. She is a wonderful person with a real feisty spirit. She was happy with the results from my mammogram. Then she did an exam and said now future mammograms could be scheduled to have both breasts done at the same time on a yearly basis.
I, then, pointed out the really large discrepancy between my two breasts. I asked her if it was normal for my left to be so much smaller than my right. I had noticed this about one month ago. (Takes a lot for me to notice things on my body.) But there is a big difference from my right to my left. My right breast fills the cup of my bra to over flowing while the left one barely fills it.
My surgeon told me that this is quite normal after the lumpectomy and radiation. The radiation tends to shrink things. (Wish they could have done that for my belly fat and nose.) I told her that the difference is pretty large. She agreed with me and is referring me to a plastic surgeon. She told me that he would not increase the size of the left. I told her I don’t want that. I want the right one reduced and maybe made perky. My surgeon smiled. She also said the surgeon would decide about the reconstruction.
So now I wait for the referral and finally feel balanced. Having one side larger than the other side, really throws off your balance. At least, that is what I am claiming for now.
I know now that I would not be a very good hairstylist. That is why I go to a good stylist to have my hair cut. I should also just give in and always go to a stylist to have my hair colored.
I was not going to mess with my hair. I am pretty happy that my hair is growing back in. It is coming in really well. The hair is very soft and quite wavy. It isn’t really curly. But it is coming in gray. I was done with hair dyes and all the chemicals. Since I was probably 20 years old, I have been enhancing the blonde strands on top of my head. Blondes have more fun, right? When I was a child, I had white blonde hair.
My husband prefers blonde. He was a blonde himself. I got bored with just the gray. I started to look around at organic, natural hair products and found henna. There are a lot of henna products out there but I use lush.com for my skin care. I am very happy with the products and the fact that it is all natural. I was browsing through the website, looking at all their products when I found henna.
All along, I thought henna was more to enhance red hair. Or to turn you into a red head. I read up on the product and being adventurous, ordered the red henna. I did go out and find a natural hair dye for blondes. However, it still does contain some chemicals. After my husband told me he would prefer me to be blonde again and I was in the mood for an experiment, I went with the henna.
The instructions were to cook the henna with some water. Since my hair is short, I didn’t use that much. Globbed it into my hair with rubber gloves. Did it all by myself and didn’t make a mess. Not even on me. Stuck a big baggie over my head and left it on for 2 1/2 hours. Instructions said to leave it on anywhere from 2 to 4 hours. I wanted to be safe.
Glad I went for safe. Took the baggie off. Showered out all the gritty stuff from the henna. Showered myself off. Wrapped a towel around my head. Dried off everything. Then took a look. I couldn’t really see anything with my hair being wet. But my hair dries pretty quickly.
I am just letting out big sighs right now that my hair has dried. It’s red. The henna is supposed to intensify or still keep working for another 24 hours. Wonder what it will look like tomorrow. I didn’t get all my hair. There are still some patches of gray. I have a doctor’s appointment and I’m torn between covering my head with my wig or a bandana. Or just going for it and going au naturel. My daughter in law keeps calling me the crazy old lady. Might as well prove her right for once. I mean there are a lot of little old ladies out there with blue hair. I might as well join them all with my red hair.
My husband did say he would prefer me to be blonde. This is all his fault. He should have said red. Then I would have gone for the blonde hair tint. This is why I would never make a good hair stylist.
I am going to tackle a subject that should not be hidden or dismissed. Depression. One of the many mental illnesses that affect more people than we know. It has affected me.
I have been struggling with depression for more than 35 years. Probably since my mid twenties. At the time, I didn’t realize what it was.
My ex-husband is a narcissist. His parents had him on a pedestal which he loved. He expected the same treatment from me. I was an introvert and had no self confidence. He used that. He tried to control and manipulate everything I did. Everything I touched, he would take and “make it better”. It got to the point where I didn’t try anymore. When it was for myself, I would hide it and not show him. There were times I cried myself to sleep.
As he climbed the ladder of success, things at home got worse. I was never given any credit for anything I did. Nothing I did was ever good enough. He always changed whatever I touched. It was especially horrible with our children which I always tried to hide from them. He was a good father when the children were young but once they started gaining independence, he changed.
I was threatened so many times to behave or he would take me to court and “clean my clock” or leave me with nothing. I was so intimidated and felt so worthless. So many nights, I would feel myself being sucked into a deep, black hole. There were nights I wished I could die. But, not once, did I think of ending my life. That was not up to me. That was for God and I would not go there.
It was during my children’s teenage years where I went to my family doctor to ask for help. I was told I had depression. My family doctor prescribed an antidepressant. There was one psychiatrist for our city (population size 600,000) in Canada. I would not be able to get an appointment with the psychiatrist for at least one year. Did I want to wait or just start on the antidepressant the doctor could prescribed. I went with what my family doctor recommended.
I finally found the courage when we moved to the States to leave my ex. I truly struggled with the decision. Every time the ex went on a business trip, I could breathe. The day before his expected return, I would start to have the shakes and I would cry. The straw that broke the camel’s back was an order that I was given before our son’s wedding. I couldn’t live like this anymore. I was seeing a therapist who gave me coping skills. But it wasn’t enough.
With the diagnosis of cancer, I was able to see a psychiatrist who has prescribed the proper antidepressant for me. The antidepressant has helped. However, when my oncologist started me on the estrogen suppressing medications, I am not certain if it was both the Anastrazole and the Letrozole or just one of them that put me into such a deep depression that I could not stop crying. Every night I would be sobbing. Such a deep, black hole that I was being sucked into. I couldn’t control it. I couldn’t stop it. I felt helpless. This wasn’t me.
There was never a day I couldn’t get out of bed. I could still perform everything I needed to do for the day. Seeing my horse was the best thing I could do for myself. However, the relationship with my husband was unraveling for me. I felt stupid, ugly, fat and undeserving of such a handsome man. I was falling apart. I was praying every day to God for relief. I wondered why this was happening. Was I seeing things that just weren’t there? I prayed and prayed.
One day, I started an argument with my sweet, wonderful husband. It just erupted out of me. I didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t know why I was doing it. I went upstairs to sob. I hurt and that black hole was sucking me in. I sobbed so hard and prayed. Slowly, I composed myself.
I sat up. It was like a switch had been flicked off. The black hole disappeared. I could breathe. Quite literally, the sun came out. If you have never gone through something like this, it is difficult to explain. It is a feeling of calm that comes over you. The tears are gone and I could breathe.
I know when I walked back downstairs and gave my husband a loving kiss, his eyes were pretty wide. He must have wondered, what the heck? I sat down beside him, took up my knitting and watched the television with him.
The next day was normal and I thought, I want to feel like this every day. How can I have this happen every day? I want to feel normal. God did hear my prayers. For over one month, I was being dragged by depression into the black hole. God pulled me out so I could see the sunlight.
Depression is a horrible illness. Trying to cope with it without medication or seeing a therapist is impossible. I believe in God but I know I need the medication as well. Just like a diabetic, they put their faith in God, but they need their medication to live. Hiding your depression is not healthy. Getting help for it and understanding that you need coping skills is vital.
Depression would not ever lead me to suicide. It has for others. I can understand it. But I would never do it. I have too much to live for. My husband. My children and grandchildren. My dear, sweet friends. My pets. And God. People with depression need understanding and compassion. That is all anyone could ask.
I did it! I went ahead and booked an appointment with the podiatrist for the maxitrectomy on both big toenails. The chemo drugs did such a number on the two big toenails and they weren’t growing in nicely. Plus they were uncomfortable.
This is my before the procedure picture. When my granddaughter asked me what was wrong with my toenails, I told her it was from some of the drugs I had to take for my cancer. After that, I never wore sandals again.
I was told the maxitrectomy is to remove the entire toenail and there is a 90% success rate that the toenail will not grow back. The doctor kept asking, are you sure you want to do this? I kept saying yes, I want them gone. The nurse suddenly turned and looked at the doctor with wide eyes and gasped. I asked her, what is wrong? Especially when the doctor kept saying I would be sore. The nurse laughed and told me that she thought I meant to have all of my toenails removed. No. That was not happening. Just the two big toenails.
The doctor went ahead and sprayed my toes with a very cold numbing spray then injected both big toes with an anesthetic. The needles hurt a little. But it was not bad. They left for a few minutes to let the anesthetic settle in. I asked to be lying prone as I did not want to watch the procedure. As long as I don’t see it, I am fine.
The doctor came back. Pulled off the gross toenails, which I did not feel. Then all I felt was some pressure as he applied a chemical to the nail bed. The chemical would eat away the source of where the nail grows from. This did not hurt either. Then both the doctor and the nurse applied gauze and bandages. They ran out of blue and I asked for purple. So one blue toe and one purple.
The nurse gave me detailed instructions on the care of my toes and I was good to go. The actual procedure took, maybe, five minutes. Absolutely no pain. Just tingling from my neuropathy. I made a two week follow up visit and walked out. Drove home. By myself.
I was a little apprehensive the next morning before my shower about taking off the bandages. I wondered what kind of grossness would be waiting for me. Slowly, slowly took off the bandages. I was surprised. Not too bad. It looks like I painted my toenails red. The redness will disappear after a while and I was told that some oozing should be there for a few days.
Took my shower and let the water drizzle on my toes. Didn’t hurt. Dried off then sprayed the toes with the cleaning agent I was given. Didn’t hurt. Put the ointment on that I was given. That didn’t hurt either. It didn’t totally gross me out either. Walked around and there was no discomfort. With the neuropathy I just have a constant tingling feeling in my toes. They are on the numb side but nothing terrible. Not sure where all the soreness was or if it would begin.
Being impressed with myself, I took the above pictures, I sent them to my kids. My daughter-in-law has a total phobia against feet so I knew I would be reprimanded for sending her the pictures. My son and oldest daughter both reacted with, Gee thanks, Mom! So gross. My youngest daughter, who is in a nursing program said, I’ve seen worse. Feeling a little satisfied, I am still waiting for the soreness to happen. Nothing.
Through all of this, before the doctor did the procedure and he kept asking if I was sure and that it would be sore, I told him with everything I had already been through this would be a piece of cake. He agreed with me.
I still consider myself so lucky. I have gone through a lot. But when I think of every other cancer patient, I am lucky. I thank all my friends who prayed for me. Most of all, I am lucky to have a Father who loves me and is there for me. I have a plaque that says, Lord help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that you and I together can’t handle. Amen.
I had my survivorship appointment with the oncologist PA last week. We went through everything I need to know as a survivor. I like the word warrior better but I suppose that applies to someone who is fighting the disease, not after. The PA examined all the areas she needed to. I was glad because I am not good at checking for lumps in the breasts.
We talked about getting me on the next estrogen suppressing medication. Number 3 with only one more to try. This one is called Exemestane. The PA told me to wait another week or two before starting this one. She said most patients have hot flashes or joint pain with the medications. I seem to be stretching their side effect limits.
We went through all the doctors I saw through the lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. A print out was given with all the information of the size, type and classification of my tumor. We went through all the residual side effects. Fatigue, difficulty sleeping is at the top of the list. I do get tired easily but it is getting better. I still have neuropathy in the toes. This may be a condition I might have for the rest of my life.
Osteoporosis is also listed as a side effect. Funny that. I had osteoporosis since 2010. I had been taking Fosamax then switched to the twice yearly injections. I was sent for a bone scan prior to starting on the estrogen suppressing medications. My bones are now healthy and strong. Every doctor is totally surprised that has happened. They cannot explain how it happened. I was taking a good calcium/magnesium supplement. I was riding my horse five days per week. I consider it a blessing from God.
Anxiety and stress are another residual effect. Great. I am going through a lot of stresses right now. Just pile it on higher and deeper. I wonder if I can get a lobotomy. I am having arguments with Canada Revenue (Canadian IRS) who have been holding onto a sizable refund check to me for more than one year. I am being sued by my ex husband for the illegal activities he did during our marriage. Thankfully I have an excellent lawyer and I have so much documentation that I am certain we thinned out a few forests. I am also going through a huge personal stress. Please Jesus, help me with this one.
Another side effect is weight gain from the chemotherapy. Apparently every breast cancer patient gains weight. Even though the furthest thing from your mind while you are undergoing chemo is food. I had no appetite. Unfortunately, the things I did eat and could keep down were carbs. I ate some vegetables and fruit but so many things were just too hard on my stomach. I can no longer eat anything spicy. You do not want to be too close to me should I eat something spicy, or at least sit down wind.
I did gain weight. More than 25 pounds. After the radiation treatments and when I started to feel a little normal again, I was tired of running past mirrors. Or just looking into them and saying, “Oh, yech!” I finally got tired of this and was just angry enough with myself to look for a weight loss program.
I am the type of person that needs results now. Losing 2 pounds per week after starving myself to death was not an option. So with my determination in hand, I went to Carolina Health Center. I think they call themselves Align now. This diet is very similar to the HCG diet. I lost over 20 pounds in one month. That’s the way to do it. I want to lose another 7 pounds and then I will be at my goal weight. I have slowed down the weight loss now for the last 10 pounds and that is okay by me. I started having chocolate cravings and I knew if I waited until the end, I would probably gorge myself with chocolate. So I bought a couple cartons of delicious Ben & Jerry’s chocolate flavored ice creams. I was very careful in how much I ate. Still losing weight but at least enjoying chocolate in moderation. I also started adding nuts into the diet. Just a handful at a time but it is enough to curb the munchies.
The recipes with this diet are superb. I have tried almost all of the recipes and have been so happy with the flavors. All fats, carbs and dairy are excluded from my diet. Only hormone free beef, chicken, turkey and certain fish, certain vegetables and certain fruits. I have switched all my food to natural. Not organic but natural. All cosmetics are natural without oil. I am gradually changing all my cleaning products to natural.
I was told by the PA oncologist to keep my BMI to 25 or 26. This is something I can do. If this is going to keep me cancer free, I will do it. Gizmo, my horse, is so much happier that I am 20 plus pounds lighter. Some time soon, I won’t get winded when I am playing with my grandchildren. I am the one who cuts the lawn at our house. I will enjoy being able to push that lawnmower and not have to take breaks. Our yard is not that big.
Now I am a survivor. At some point, I want to get a pink ribbon tattoo with a pink butterfly and the word survivor. My husband is worried that I am going to get all tatted up. I won’t. I have the butterfly breaking free of the ball and chain on my back close to my shoulder. No one can see it really. The pink ribbon tattoo, I do want more visible and I think the calf will be a good place. Then that will be it for the tattoos. Maybe. Perhaps. I don’t know. Probably.
I told you how the Taxol chemotherapy drug does affect people. I was told it could affect my toenails and/or fingernails. Fortunately, it only affected my toenails.
The podiatrist I saw back in May, gave me a biotin supplement to take for two months and gave me a polish to apply to my toenails. He then said I should come back in three months.
I recently saw him and told him the left big toenail was not comfortable and that I was not happy with it. I wasn’t too concerned with the right big toenail. He took off a large portion of the left toenail and sent it to the lab to see if there was any fungus type thing going on. He removed a lot of the right big toenail and said it was not doing well either. He said that both big toenails would probably never return to normal and would always give me issues.
I asked him what my options were. He suggested matricectomy which is the surgical and chemical removal of the toenail. He said it can be done in their office. He explained how it would be done. Or I could just leave the toenails the way they are. I have not worn sandals at all since my toenails have grown back. They are just so ugly, as you can see by my picture. The doctor says that once the toenail is removed, you can’t really tell that it isn’t there anymore. He said I could even paint the skin area and no one would notice. There are several videos on toenail removal. I started watching one and then chickened out. I don’t mind needles and different procedures but do not want to actually watch them being done.
Before we decide to go ahead with the matricectomy, the doctor has requested to see blood work on my liver functions. He wants to make sure that the area would heal well after my chemotherapy treatments. At this point, I am wanting to go ahead and get it done. One more thing to look forward to.
I had surgery this past week to have my remaining ovary removed. However, when the doctor went in, my left ovary was atrophied and it had attached itself to my intestine. The good doctor made the decision to not remove the ovary as it could potentially cause more harm than good. It was a decision we had both discussed prior to the surgery and we had agreed with the decision.
Now I have three nice holes in my belly (I wish I could have told him to suck out some of the belly fat while he had me there but I don’t think a gynecologist can do that). One hole in my belly button and then two on either side. It was done with a laprascope. I wish my gall bladder could have waited until gall bladders were removed with a laprascope. But, no, I have this nice long scar on the right side of my belly.
I told you in a previous blog how the Letrozole made me into a crazy woman. I cried pretty much every night and I was in this deep, deep black hole. I stopped taking the medicine on Monday. Three days after my surgery and I am still feeling the effects of all the drugs I was given. My oncologist told me to stop taking the Letrozole and see how I am feeling in two weeks. Does she really think I want to go back on it? My poor husband can’t take the Letrozole. I can’t either.
I am such a lightweight with drugs. My body rebels against drugs. It very quickly lets me know that it does not want this foreign crap in my body. I just have to agree with my body.
My next visit with my oncologist will be interesting. She wanted my ovary removed because she does not want anything in my body that could produce estrogen. Well, I think atrophied means that ovary is dead. The second estrogen suppressing medication punched me down and out. There are only two more medications to try. Anastrazole = bad flu like symptoms. Letrozole = totally crazy lady. I will let you know what happens with the next one.