"The goal is to live a full, productive life even with all that ambiguity. No matter what happens, whether the cancer never flares up again or whether you die, the important thing is that the days that you have had you will have lived."
Recovery From Breast Cancer Surgery
After the three pills they gave me after I woke up in the hospital (I believe a Tylenol 3 and two for nausea), all I took was regular Tylenol for the first two days, and nothing after that. So I didn't find it painful at all. I should mention that I have a pretty high pain tolerance. (You should see the strange looks I get when I tell people I had 4 C-sections and would have had more except my gynaecologist in Mississauga—as opposed to the one in Regina—would have had a fit.)
I felt slightly nauseated for a couple of days, but took care of it by not eating much the first couple of days except chicken soup and other easy things, plus the ginger ale and Steeped tea ginger-lemon tea.
I had two incisions, both high on the left side. Weirdly enough, the higher, smaller one, where the lymph nodes were removed, was by far the more bothersome because it’s just under my arm pit and my arm rubs against it. Also, although I'd been careful to get some loose clothing to wear, virtually everything had underarm seams that rubbed against it, too.
I managed with what I had for a couple of days, but then I went to Walmart and found several tops in athletic wear that worked.
I also checked Winners and found a perfect warm, fuzzy, soft top to wear over the sleeveless ones. So I was set for the next couple of weeks.
What I Did
For the first few days, I basically read and slept and ate.
I was really glad I'd planned ahead because that made everything easier. I had eight Vera Stanhope mysteries (by Ann Cleeves) that I'd ordered ahead of time from our local library. (Note: I love our library. They have multiple branches and move books back and forth as requested so I can just pick up any of the books at our local branch.)
Les and I also watched an episode from the Shetland mystery series (adapted from other books by Ann Cleeves) each evening.
I should mention that Les (my husband) has done virtually all the cooking for roughly 18 years. I think it's fair because I did the majority of the cooking for the first 28 years (and a lot more mouths). Besides, our current kitchen can only handle one person working in it at a time. Not joking, either! You can't move without getting in the other person's way.
But the bigger problem is that Les's and my styles of cooking are very different. I planned ahead and created menus and grocery lists, organizing and freezing meals or part of meals for up to six weeks at a time. His system is a combination of buying whatever's on sale and looking into the refrigerator to see what's there that he can use. Inexplicably, while my system worked well when we had our sons at home, his system works well for the two of us.
(Digression to explain why I didn't feel bad that Les was cooking and why we continue to have great meals.)
Anyway, the surprising thing was the fatigue. As in no mental energy even just to write a quick update. Since the surgery was on Thursday, Oct. 18, I thought that if I rested Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I’d be up to doing some work on Monday, but I had no brain or energy to do anything except read.
Then, on Tuesday, I woke up feeling sick to my stomach.
Wednesday I felt so tired, and so... I did a lot of reading. Not that I mind that. :)
Since my appointment with the surgeon was for two weeks after the surgery, I wouldn't know how things went until then. So I basically rested and waited.
My Appointment with the Surgeon
13 days after the surgery, I went to see the surgeon so he could make sure the incisions were okay, but, more important, give me the results of the pathology.
Everything was good. The incisions were healing, and there had been no sign of cancer in the lymph nodes he removed or in the tissue around the lump. He thought I'd like need about a month (5 days a week) of radiation and maybe a pill. He'd have the Breast Cancer Clinic people make an appointment for me to see a medical oncologist who would make the final call on what'd need. And he'd see me again in February.
That was it.
On that basis, we went ahead with closing the deadline for the new Hot Apple Cider Books anthology were were planning to publish for next fall. A month of radiation shouldn't affect our time line.
After a few days, someone from the Breast Cancer Clinic called to say I had an appointment with an oncologist on Nov. 20th.
I worked on things I needed to get done: the weekly blogs for my memoir, which took a ridiculous amount of research on Ancestry.ca and other places; the first draft of a book review of a mystery for Faith Today; a few more small steps in our attempt to downsize. Among other things, we got rid of our heavy bedroom furniture—a dresser, chest of drawers, two large night tables and a headboard that all had edges that attracted dust like crazy! They originally belonged to my parents, and we'd had them for 26 years!
To replace them, we bought a few more hanging shelves for our closet, plus two smaller Hemnes white night tables and an open wardrobe from IKEA for me. We also got new lamps and the wonderful little corkboard thingie that holds eyeglasses and other small essentials. Then we found a plain white headboard at Home Depot.
Yes, our electrical cords still have to be fixed!
Our old comforter, which I still love, is a bit threadbare after 18 years, so we decided to replace it, too. We were going for lighter and it's warm and anything but airy. (Which is why I had eventually bought a light mint-green quilt to replace it in the summers.)
Since we're still using our old comforter, and I forgot to take a picture earlier, you get to see it with the new headboard.
We also got a new TV (early Black Friday special!) that goes on the wall, and got rid of our small but very heavy old one that had to be ancient.
The week before I was to see the oncologist, I broke out into a weird rash on both sides of my lips. Going up and down like my mouth was the centre of an H. (I stole that from our druggist.) I'd show you a picture but it was gross. If you want to check it out, I believe this is it.
I put aloe vera on and that helped a bit. Then, because it was still itchy, I tried calamine lotion. That also helped a bit. But not enough.
Fortunately, I was able to get an appointment the next day at our regular doctor's office to see the nurse practitioner. She gave me two creams to put on, but since she also knew about the cancer diagnosis, she urged me to get a flu shot. I said I'd likely do it after I saw the oncologist.
The creams she gave me helped, and the good news is that when I saw the oncologist the rash was barely visible, although it took at least three weeks to totally go away.
The Medical Oncologist
It was finally the day I got the actual results. I don't remember who said this—maybe the nurse practitioner but maybe a nurse at the Breast Cancer Clinic—but surgeons are interested in whether more surgery is needed, while oncologists are interested in the small details that determine what other treatment might be needed.
My oncologist was a young man, who was soft-spoken and very nice. And very thorough.
He asked me what the surgeon had told me and I said that he thought I might need radiation and maybe a pill.
The oncologist frowned.
Turns out it wasn't that simple.
I then got a detailed explanation, complete with drawings on the paper covering the examination table as to why radiation and a pill wouldn't work.
What I had was Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC), sometimes called Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma, which is the most common type of breast cancer (about 80%).
The lump was 1.6 cm in diameter, and both the lymph nodes that were also taken out showed no sign of cancer. All good. I think that made it stage 1.
However, it was also triple-negative, which isn’t as common. Something like 15%. Basically, triple negative cancer means that "the growth of the cancer is not supported by the hormones estrogen and progesterone, nor by the presence of too many HER2 receptors. Therefore, triple-negative breast cancer does not respond to hormonal therapy (such as tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors) or therapies that target HER2 receptors, such as Herceptin (chemical name: trastuzumab)." https://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/diagnosis/trip_neg
Because it was triple negative, that made the cancer Type 2 (which is more aggressive than Type 1 but not as aggressive as Type 3).
That news not only took out the "pill" option, but also brought in the chemotherapy option.
Long before, when I first heard the cancer diagnosis, I had realized that chemotherapy was a strong possibility. I'd even checked out head covering options. However, in my mind at least, by focusing on radiation the first time I saw him after the surgery, and then on radiation and maybe a pill at the second appointment, my surgeon had basically taken chemotherapy off the table. So I hadn't researched it very seriously, and I felt unprepared.
My oncologist totally understood, and told me what he was planning—4 sessions of chemo, each one three weeks apart (roughly 3 months), followed by radiation.
The chemo is for the whole body just in case there are some miniscule cancer cells roaming around. The radiation focuses on where the lump actually was to get any cells that might be there.
We decided that he would go ahead and book me for the chemotherapy, and I would get some blood tests done that day. They'd also book appointments for a a bone scan and a CT scan, presumably to look for any cancer that might already be already there.
I would come back to see him in two weeks and then we'd make the call as to whether or not to go ahead.
The Breast Cancer Clinic also called that day to let me know I had an appointment to talk to the radiology oncologist, who came from Newmarket 1 or 2 days each month.
My next two weeks were going to be very busy with medical appointments. Plus, the need to get our bedroom finished became high priority because I might be spending quite a bit more time in it than usual.
But we'd just closed the entries for submissions for a new Hot Apple Cider book! What would we do about that?