Surgery journal …it keeps on going 

So the last I left off – I think- is that I was slowly healing from my surgery. 

Recap – I had breast cancer surgery which led to pain for three years that was ignored by my breast surgeon. It exacerbated last May 2016. I was bed ridden. I had to begin a journey that would lead mye to a nerve surgeon that agreed that I may have a problem with surgical clips. This clip issue had been suggested to me by a physiatrist I saw over the summer.  Surgical clips are made of metals and are used often in surgeries to close of vessels. They have caused issues In patients but it’s not common or maybe not admitted by doctors that they are an -in fact- an issue. 

The nerve surgeon operated. Removed clips in my axilla (armpit) And he found some clipped onto nerves. Not the right thing to clip.  The nerve surgeon also cut some nerves and buried them into muscle. He removed a neuroma (bundles of scar tissue ). He was optimistic that he had cleared the area of clips and that these were likely the cause of much of my pain. He Closed me up and here I am just over three months later. 

Now I will say that I’m still in the process of healing. But I have had pain in the back of my armpit -it’s not new pain- I think my surgeon thought it was pain that would subside as he treated all that other stuff I mentioned to you above. That pain in the back of my armpit is becoming worse. And the symptom that bothered me the most -the nerve pain that made me cough -is still around and seems to flare when that armpit pain flares. Nobody gets the cough symptom. That is very frustrating.

Is it worse BC I’m more active and doing more things?  Well I’m not bed ridden anymore and I am doing more and the more I use my arm the more it hurts. I can’t work on my range of motion exercises much because it causes pain. And it hurts as a passenger in the car and when I drive. I tried a long ride to the beach a little over a week ago as a passenger and that about crushed me. I am not big on opiates so I’m only willing to take so much medication. It was a stressful trip to say the least. 

I went to see the nerve surgeon this week and he took a long time with me. He pondered my continued pain. He had some ideas of the nerves it could be. He hopes it can calm down and become a non-issue the longer I heal. 

So the plan is to get a series injections right in the areas of my pain. The injections contain lidocaine -a numbing agent -which is short acting and some steroid which we hope will calm the pain down. I get the next injections four weeks apart. I won’t know if this injection will help even for the short term for up to a week.  Then if  I still continue with pain a few months from now I will have to have more surgery. 

Yes I know. It bites. 

But I need to get this pain level under control so it doesn’t limit me so much. I’m limited socially and physically. I’m up and around which I’m so grateful for. But it’s not enough yet. My mom moved in with us at the end of November. I want to be there for her.  I don’t want to be dealing with my own pain issues that it limits me from helping her. 

I’m 75% better than last summer. Being bed ridden and now being up and around is a huge deal. A lot of the pain is gone. But what’s left is bad. If it weren’t for the pills for nerve pain I’d been in bad shape. I hardly ever tolerate any RX meds. I failed all the cancer hormone blocking drugs I’ve tried. I was very pessimistic about the drug neurontin also known as Gabapentin. It’s used to treat seizures but is very effective on nerve pain. Which is a hideous burning pain that can go from light burn to a blaze if left to smolder.  The drug has been great for me. I have little side effects. A few twitches here and there and memory loss. The memory loss is the worst of it for me. I put up with it because the pain control is that good. And the drug isn’t like an opiate. I’m just writing everything down and when I forget something at least I have something to blame it on. I have read coming off the drug is  tough. Not like coming off opiates but it can be hard. But I’ve read how to counteract any unpleasant side effects with natural products like magnesium – which can make the taper off the drug much better. But I’m not even there yet. I still need the drug -so in an unlike fashion for me I’m not going to worry about when I go off it. 

Nobody said that this healing would be easy. I think I just got in my head that it would be a done deal when all those clips came out.  I’m disappointed. But I’m so determined to get to a point where I won’t have so much pain. I don’t know if I’ll actually ever be pain free on my cancer side -but I’d like it to be much better.  And I’m not pain free elsewhere. It’s just that the level of pain that sets us back from true living can be different for each of us. And I met my match. 

The one good – well maybe great thing- that has happened is that from my experience I have been able to help other woman in the same pain situation as I am in ( post breast therapy pain syndrome). A couple woman have even gone to my surgeon after I mentioned him on the Facebook page that I belong to for ladies with post breast cancer therapy pain. 

It feels good that my hardships haven’t gone in vain and that my experience and what I’ve learned and shared could actually be help to others.  

I have a lot of things I want to do. I am so grateful for how far I’ve come. And I call upon God each day to help me to be more patient. I am doing the best I can.

I miss riding my horse. I miss farm chores. I don’t miss doing laundry though -I can do a bit of it but I try not to. This week we hired a cleaning service to come in and clean. It was much needed. We will probably hire them on a regular schedule. I just can’t keep up and my teens aren’t the best cleaners. And I’m kind of done with the eye rolling from them especially when I can’t pull my own weight doing chores. And frankly I don’t want it to be a fight. In the scheme of life it’s just not worth being mad at messy kids. Life’s too short. 

The road to recovery isn’t always a straight line. I’m learning to be more accepting of that. Right now I am better than last summer. I’m so grateful. 

I really am learning to live one day at a time. I don’t know how I’ll feel from day to day. So just focusing on today is the easiest for me. It’s forcing me to live more in the present. The theme to my last blog. 

I’m carried by the thank you’s I’ve gotten for sharing my experiences and hearing that what I’ve written has been empowering them has really be a saving grace. I’ve been carried by the good wishes of friends from all over. 

It’s not a road I’d wish on anyone. During my worst days I sometimes can’t find a thing to be joyful about. But I see that life happens no matter where I am or what I feel – and I want to live life. 

I orten  think of the Apostle Paul in the Bible and his unending optimism and want to call people to Christianity despite his circumstances. His letters never waivered in his goal and he never lamented on his circumstances though he was jailed when he wrote many of the letters that now are books in the New Testament. He found contentment in any circumstance. This was because of his love of other things outside of this earthly place and his faith of what lay ahead for him. 

Sometimes you have to try to enjoy life even when you aren’t where you want to be- whether that be physically or emotionally. I’m no Paul. But I can learn from him. 

This cancer journey has been such an incredible challenge in my life. It’s not easy for me to stop along the way and consider I need to be learning from my discomforts . I just want out of it. But in the moments where I can just stop and breathe and  just live in the present despite my discomfort I see how truly blessed I am. 

I don’t know where the road will lead but I’m on it – better to make the best of it when I can. 

Facing surgery. 

Tomorrow is my surgery day. I’m nervous which is normal. I feel a little bad about feeling nervous because I’ve prayed for for so long now for someone to give me some hope to help ease my pain. I finally found that doctor and I should be excited. 

I was excited early on after we got the ok from the doctor that he’d perform the surgery.  But as it’s closed in I’ve become less excited. 

I think in part because it’s surgery and that’s scary but also I want to get my hopes up that it will help reduce my pain a lot but then I’m afraid to get too hopeful. 

I want to be able to get out of bed and live my life.  Last spring I had pain as I’d had for over two years but I was dealing with it   It wasn’t optimal but I had a life outside the confines of my home and bedroom. Now it feels like such a reach to get that life back again. 

I’ve had to get my mind around my reality. It’s been hard. I was steadfast against taking any RX medications. Now I realize I may have to take some medications even after my surgery is over.  I’m taking some meds now BC once you get to a certain pain level ones stealth refusal to take medications is easily changed to give me whatever will make not hurt so much. 

I had never taken an opiate before but I have now. And even at 1/4 dose those suckers work. And I can see why people become dependent on them for pain relief and I can see how they can be used recreationally causing addiction. They make you feel good. So far I’ve only take a total of maybe 4 pills in all the months I’ve be feeling badly. I didn’t want to become needy for them. I so take Valium which for some reason helps my discomfort but I take that sparingly as welll.  I wonder after surgery where I’ll be with this. Directly after I’m sure to need pain meds. But I won’t know about the long term for a while. 

 After breast cancer surgery I didn’t take anything for pain and the pain was bad but doable for me. But I’ve read since that It’s good to take pain. meds after surgery as it may lower the existence of pain in the future. It has something to do with the brain and the nerves getting a rest from eacother. In fact in some cancer centers woman are given general anesthesia and a nerve block. This has been researched and it seems it also helps lessen the chance of post surgery long term nerve pain.  

My mind kind of goes everywhere today. I need to shower tonight. I have to be at the surgery center very early and my surgery is early. I have to leave the house before my kids get up. I need to get things ready so I can sleep (hopefully) as close to our departure time as possible. I have to wash my surgical area with some special soap before I go.  I’ll need to take meds before I go. I can’t eat after midnight. So I have planned a second dinner at ten.  Trying to get all this straight while being nervous is kind of overwhelming. 

I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who love me and who I love. I also have my sweet dogs milling around trying to help the take edge off of my nerves. I love how they just live life in the moment except when it’s almost chow time. They seem to anticipate that. It’s nice having my golden Rudy here. He chooses to be with me over playing in the yard with his buddies. He’s gotten a bit heavy -we will work on that with some ball throwing when  i am feeling better. 

Kevin -my husband- has been incredible through this. A better friend and partner I couldn’t ask for. You don’t realize until your sick how much it effects the entire family. This has been a 3 year ordeal. My kids have seen me at my worst through this. And I’m sorry for that. Maybe after this is done and I’m feeling better I can make it up to them in some fun way. 

Right now, I think I’ll do some meditation and prayer. That should help center me I hope. I’ll picture myself whole and walking on the beach.  Or riding my horse. I’ll think of the endpoint -focus on the outcome I  want. 

And maybe I’ll focus on the meal I want after surgery and I’m through recovery. 

I like to eat.  

Thanks to all who have sent me notes and have prayed and thought of me through all this. Keep me in your thoughts and prayers at 7am tomorrow if you can. 

God Bless. 


October has come – some thoughts from a breast cancer survivor

Holy Cow! It’s already October. The summer slipped away from me as I rested in bed trying to stay away from pain. And as I searched for answers to rid me of the pain. Now it is fall- one days oozed into another and what seemed like an eternity  of time as I sat in bed day after day has slipped away so very quickly. I look back and I still feel as if it should still be June.

I’m going into my fourth month of this hell with my pain issues. The pink will come out today. It’s breast cancer awareness month. It’s a good thing. But it’s hard for me to sort out my feelings really.

Today my son runs in a cross country meet. I haven’t been able to go to any of the meets this fall. Which is a bummer. Anyway for October -the runners are going to wear pink shoelaces. My son wasn’t sure if he wanted to go to all the trouble to change his laces. He’s a teen and has his lazy moments. I kind of wanted him to want to wear them bc his mom had breast cancer and bc i am still dealing w the after effects of treatments. And he lives it with me everyday. He’s used to a mom who  is sick in bed. That makes me sad. But his wearing the laces -that’s just a personal thing bc this son and I are so close. His wearing pink is significant to me bc he lives with the real truth -the real awareness.

He wrote an essay for his AP lit class last month . Part of it mentions how he was effected by my cancer. It made me cry.  I so wish I didn’t cause my family strife in this way. I rather cause strife by being a nagging mom not a sick one.

Three years ago on oct 3 I had surgery to remove the cancer from my right breast. It’s was a stage one cancer. Early stage. And I had a procedure done called a sentinel lymph node Biopsy where I had 4 lymph nodes removed – all returned negative for cancer. During surgery  I had little tiny surgical clips placed in my breast and in my armpit -also called the axilla. They are used to control bleeding and they help speed up the surgery.  Not all surgeons use them.  I followed my surgery with 30 rounds of radiation. Later I learned that radiation can be as damaging to the body as chemo and the effects of radiation can show up years later. I’ve since come to know cancer survivors who suffer from the effects of radiation treatments. I’d like to say in hindsight I would change something that I did back in 2013 but I really don’t know if I would. I didn’t have the gift of hindsight at that time. If I have been asked if I wanted surgical clips in my body I think I may have said no but I can’t for sure say that.

After surgery, I had pain and limited arm range of motion. Radiation intensified the issue. A few months after my treatments ended i was shoveling snow and something happened – when I awoke the next morning I had tingling sensations that went across my chest. It was very painful and it made me cough. Over the years I have had pain in the axilla and in my arm and those terrible sensations that would go across my chest. Nobody knew what was wrong. I saw many doctors with nobody really helping except to refer me to someone else. So I gave up. I was able to deal with the pain and I tried to live with it -figuring this was the price you paid for getting cured from cancer. Then this year in late late May I began to feel worse. The pain was getting much worse -and the horrible chest sensations occurring more often and they were much more severe.

By June it was getting so bad I was basically in pain for our entire vacation and when I came home we began to really push for answers. Which has been hell. I was in a very dark place for a good while.  Read more about that here. But our luck changed when we found our way  to some great and kind doctors who listened. A physiatrist I saw said it could be an issue with my surgical clips as they are located in my areas of focal pain.

That sent me back to my original breast surgeon who treated me like I was an alien and sent me to another breast surgeon that left me wishing I’d used him from the start of my cancer journey . He was finally Someone who looked at me – right at me- and saw a person in so much pain and I could see his shock in his eyes. I had come so drugged to his office for my appointment that day and  I still had to ask to be placed in an exam room while we waited for him to get out of surgery. I had to lay down. Sitting for long is too hard.  He walked in and saw me on the table with a heating pad in my armpit and he was shocked I was ever allowed to be in that much pain and he was even more shocked when I told him I was unable to get out of bed much and too use my right arm much brought on intense symptoms.

He sent me to his pain management center a few days later -where I had diagnostic injections – and all of those docs  -breast cancer and pain doc and a plastic surgeon I also saw – referred me to a peripheral nerve surgeon that also listened  and was so kind. He has seen a large number of breast cancer patients who suffer like I am. Post Breast Therapy  Pain Syndrome is only just now getting recognized as a thing in the medical communities. Often you get doctors not understanding your pain and you don’t know where to turn. Which sends you bouncing from one doctor to another.

But this doctor got it. I liked him right away. We talked a good while. He did a diagnostic injection in my armpit and I reported my results to him. He was happy enough with the results to agree to go in and resection my nerves. He agreed that surgical clips could be caught up in scar tissue and nerves and that this could be causing my pain issues. He didn’t know why I coughed from some of my chest sensations but didn’t cast me off as s crazy person.  He knows the issue occurred after the cancer surgery so he feels it’s all related to my axilla and breast pain. My surgeon is worried I may have internal tissue damage from radiation which can make the case more complicated. The things that we have to help eradicate the cancer can damage us further.

So on October 12 -a little over three years since my original cancer surgery I will be having nerve resection surgery. And he will remove as many surgical clips as he can.  I’m nervous but hopeful this will rid me of much of my pain so that I can again be a part of the world.

This brings me back to pink October and breast cancer awareness month. I’m all for creating awareness. But I think many of us are quite aware of breast cancer and cancer in general it’s everywhere.  All of us have been touched by cancer.  Do we need to be made more aware than me already are? I think awareness needs to expand its scope. I know this is a big fundraising month for breast cancer organizations. And that’s the point for the pink in your face for the month of October. And I think giving is great to help further cancer research to find less barbaric ways to treat this disease. Because it’s barbaric.

In Mexico there is a clinic where they treat breast cancer in a very different way. So much less invasive -breasts aren’t removed -the cancer is treated through the heating of the blood -and it also it involves diet changes ,supplements , the use of hormonal meds like tamoxifen. No chemo. No radiation.  They have good results in treating early stage cancers. Many of their patients achieve remission which is no evidence of cancer in their bodies and they didn’t have surgery or chemo or radiation. Pretty amazing. There are alternatives out there.

The month of awareness needs to extend to the entire truth. Cancer is a journey for the person having treatment.  It doesn’t end the last day of chemo or radiation.  We are all left with scars. Some physical some mental some financial. I had all of them. Cancer doesn’t effect just the patient. It effects the whole family. People think we just should get on with life. And most of us who are lucky enough to be in remission do. But we have scars. Fear always follows us. Sometimes chronic pain infiltrates us. Sometime it pops up years after treatment.

We freak out inside at any weird blood test result. I had one yesterday. Liver enzymes high. I think it’s because I had taken a pain killer and Valium right before the  visit to my primary care doc for a pre-op check. But they are higher than my blood draw a few weeks ago. In my head swirls so many thoughts.  Rational and irrational. I had a chest CT that said I had nodules on my lungs and three docs have told me they aren’t anything. But when you’ve had cancer you can’t let it go so easily. I’ll get a recheck  on these things after I deal with this pain issue.  It’s the trajectory having had cancer puts you on. You never really let your guard down.

Let the awareness continue. But let’s not make the end of the story just that we are survivors. That you rid us  of cancer – you’ve really put me in remission and I will try to do the right things to stay there.  Let’s tell the whole story.  Survivors can end up with chronic pain issues and other nasty side effects from the treatments. They can end up with recurrence and other types of cancers. Don’t ask us to be thankful we are still alive and we should deal with our new normal. I am thankful but theres just so much more to it than just telling someone to get over it and be thankful and get used to a new normal. My pain wasn’t addressed early on properly and now I’m in agony. And now hopefully I’ll be in less pain soon. But the mental wounds are hard to shake.

There too many people that suffer after cancer. Some things needs to be fixed to keep this from occurring. We need better after care for one. And its coming -I see it now after hunting down doctors familiar with post cancer pain – but the progression is slow.

I’m angry inside – but it comes from frustration over my situation and I want to make people aware of the true realities of cancer – not just the numbers Komen and other organizations throw out about survivor stats.

I’m that survivor and I am here to tell you the truth.  The good, the bad, and the ugly. Cancer is just the monster that begins the domino effect of a journey you never ever wanted to be on. I’ve seen my strength and weakness pop up in the same minute. I’ve Seen the very worst of myself and the very best. I’ve learned I’m resilient. I’ve seen the darkest depths of despair yet I’m here to tell you about them.

I’m the woman at the walk to raise money for a breast cancer center that’s helps treat woman who are low income or who are not insured. I’m the woman lying on the table face down getting pain block injections.  I’m the woman laughing out to dinner with friends. I’m the woman in tears bc her doctor doesn’t want to help her. I’m the woman stuck in bed trying to plan her daughters journey to get into college. I’m the woman who makes meals when others need help. I’m the woman taking in those meals now so her husband has one less thing to worry about.  I’m the woman who is facing surgery three years after my initial diagnosis. I’m not the only one. There are more of us. We are warriors.

I’m here to create real awareness that the cancer may be gone but the journey is never over.

I don’t mind the pink but just know there is more to the story -a lot more.

Cancer means so many things. It’s bowled over too many people. It’s a journey of warriors. When you see all the pink in October and your sick of it maybe if you’ve read my blog posts of late maybe you can look at the pink in a different way and you can know the story behind the story and think of those cancer warriors making their way through life trying to pick up the broken pieces and live their lives. And think of those fighters who have left us. This month should also be about them. The ones who are gone.  The cancer org’s won’t focus on that. I have a list of those brave souls that I knew that were taken by cancer- I bet you do too. When you see pink think of them.

And on October 12 if you have a minute to send a prayer up for me or send good vibes for my surgery and a good outcome that would be such a blessing to me.


See More on my pain journey here:

Sidelined -the summer goes on. 

Powerless- in search of MY power. 

Did I leave? 

Sitting on the deck