Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Post-chemo Hair Update!

I debated on whether or not to write a post about my hair.  But, I think it could be encouraging to those who are undergoing chemotherapy and disappointed about hair loss.  So, here I go. 

When I first began chemotherapy, I heard that losing one's hair can be very difficult.  Honestly, what I was most afraid of was not the way I would look.  But rather, my initial fear was looking in the mirror daily at my bald head, which would act as a constant reminder of the cancer in my body (and the poison that was being injected to rid my body of the disease).  I have to say though--it actually was not as bad as I thought it would be.

I have really gotten used to my many head coverings.  When it is just our family around the house, I don't wear any head covering unless my head is cold.  When we have visitors, I just wear a hat or bandana around the house.  When I leave the house, I usually wear a wig.  The biggest reason I wear a wig while out and about is because I don't want to be "something for people to stare at and wonder about".  I mean, let's be real--if you saw a bald young woman walking around the grocery store or wherever, you would probably wonder what was wrong with her.  Not that it is wrong to wonder at all.  But, it would give people questions that they would not have answers to unless they would ask.  And, most people would be too embarrassed to ask me.  So, I figure I will just save everyone the wondering and wear a wig.   It definitely provides a sense of normalcy.

But, now my hair on my head is growing quite a bit.  It began growing rapidly after I stopped chemotherapy.  Actually, during the last 5 weeks or so of Taxol, it began growing, but at a slow rate.  Once I stopped chemo (2/1/13 was my last infusion), it really started sprouting and filling in.  The texture seems to be exactly the same as it was prior to chemo:  thick, wavy and course.  I am perfectly happy with this though.  Before I lost my hair, I desired hair that was opposite of mine: thinner and more fine.  I think a lot of us desire hair textures that are opposites of ours.  I had to straighten my hair with a flat iron to get it to seem thinner and to straighten it.  But, now that I have lost all of my hair, I actually really appreciate what God gave me.  I miss my old hair!  So, I am glad it seems to be coming in as just the same texture and thickness.

This blurry photo is from a couple of weeks ago.  The hair is growing crazy everywhere.
Unfortunately though, my eyelashes and eyebrows have gone through three rounds of hair loss since chemo stopped.  I thought it was so strange that I didn't lose them until it stopped, but apparently it is pretty common.  I think losing my eyelashes and eyebrows was more emotionally difficult than losing the hair on my head.  Perhaps it was because it came unexpectedly, or maybe because it was again a reminder of the poison in my body.  But also, I just didn't look like me.  (During this time though, I did learn some great makeup tricks for creating an illusion of eyebrows and eyelashes.)  On the day of surgery (2/27/13), all of my eyebrow hairs and eyelashes were completely gone.   Here is the great news though:  it has only been 4 weeks since my surgery and my eyebrows and eyelashes are back and growing rapidly!    

This is a terrible photo, but perhaps you can see how much my eyebrows and eyelashes have grown in just a couple of weeks.
Ok, so those photos are pretty embarrassing!  But, if I would have seen something like this when I first began losing my hair and eyebrows, I know it would have been encouraging to me.  So, that is the only reason I share!  :-)

I have a long way to go to get my hair back to the way it was prior to chemo:

July 2012 (I began chemo in Sept. 2012)
But, I will enjoy many new fun hairstyles on my journey back to long hair.  So, will I continue to where a wig in public?  Yes, until I can get to the point where I can get my first haircut, I will probably keep wearing a wig when I am out in public.  My hair is too short for a haircut, and it is growing in in a very jagged fashion right now.  Again, I will just save the public from wondering, "oh! What did she do to her hair?" 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Spring in Texas = Wildflowers Everywhere!

A sure sign it is springtime in Texas is when you begin to see beautiful wildflowers everywhere.  Just in time for the official beginning of spring last week, they began blooming all around.  So, we made it our mission to find a lush field of bluebonnets for our annual family photo session.  I had no idea until after Luke was born that taking photos in a field of bluebonnets is the "thing to do" around here.  The bluebonnet is the official Texas state flower.  It is named for its color and, it is said, the resemblance of its petal to a woman's sunbonnet.  I believe a field of bluebonnets is one of the prettiest things in nature.

We discovered a pretty good field of bluebonnets near our house on Friday night.  We were taking the kids to a park, and decided to check to see if the bluebonnet fields in that park were in bloom.  Sure enough--there was a nice field there.  So, we took some photos on Friday night.

Silly girl!

So pretty!
As I said, we thought that field was pretty good.  But, then we found an AMAZING field on Saturday morning.  It was a bit chilly and drizzly, but the drizzle stopped just as we were getting out of our car.  So, it was timed perfectly.

A family photo..using our camera's self timer.
Oops.  Drew realized he still had his jacket on, so we took another family photo.

There is only so much you can do when you are using self-timer to take your family photo.  I was amazed that we actually got the kids to look at the camera and somewhat smile.

This is the only photo we captured of Luke by himself Saturday morning.  He moves too fast and doesn't like us taking pictures of him.
Abbey, on the other hand, was very cooperative with the picture-taking.  Actually, I think she just had fun playing in the flowers and watching nearby dogs frolicking in the field of posies.

pointing at and saying, "puppy".
We asked Abbey to smell the flowers (which really aren't that fragrant).  She smelled them, then picked them and began eating them.

Abbey is saying, "Mmmmmm" as she looked at the flower petal on her hand.  I guess she thought they were tasty.
Daddy and Luke

Mommy and Abbey
Silly Abbey!
I love bluebonnets!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Reuse & Recycle! (even maternity clothing)

I despise wasting things.  I think it comes from my innate (sometimes extreme) thriftiness.  You can read more about that in previous blog posts like this one: here.  I will often reuse things as many times as possible before I get rid of them.  I had such difficultly justifying the purchase of maternity clothing during my pregnancies, because it is something that is used for only a short period of time.  For this reason, I mainly wore my non-maternity clothing during both of my entire pregnancies.  Yes, my shirts stretched out quite a bit (as evidenced by the photo below), but they bounced right back to normal size after a wash or two and I saved some money.

photo taken about 6 weeks before Luke was born.  I was wearing (and stretching) my non-maternity work out clothes. 

For someone who wants to wear their "normal" clothes during pregnancy, my recommendation is to buy some long, stretchy tank tops (which you can use after pregnancy as well) and a bella band.   When your non-maternity shirts begin to ride up due to the expanding belly, your stretchy, long tank top will save the day by covering your belly.  The white piece of fabric pictured below is a bella band. 

The bella band is awesome.  When your higher waist pants can no longer snap or button, simply leave the pants unbuttoned, put a bella band over them and no one has to know.  :-)  It looks like you are wearing a long tank top or camisole underneath whatever shirt you are wearing.  Although the bella band is fabulous, it is not something I thought I would get much use of following my pregnancy.  

A few weeks ago, I pulled one of my bella bands out to give to a friend who is pregnant.  It was sitting on the counter for a while, because she accidentally left it at our house on the day I gave it to her.  As I was putting it away until the next time I saw her, I had an idea.  I could make use of it during this post-surgical phase.  The idea came after an embarassing, but probably funny, personal experience.  I have been wearing button-up shirts because, frankly, they are the easiest to get on and off since surgery.  Even more so than the ease of getting button-ups on, non-button ups are VERY difficult to get on and off.  One morning, I decided to put on a button-up shirt that is pretty short.  It ties at the bottom so it really requires a tank-top layer underneath, unless you want everyone to see your midriff.  So, I decided to put a tank top on underneath.  Duh! The whole reason I had selected a button-up was due to its ease of putting on and off.  Now, I was going to put on a tight tank top layer underneath?  What was I thinking?  Needless to say, it didn't go so well.  After getting stuck and spending several minutes trying to either pull the tank top all the way down and on or remove it (picture my head through the top and my arms stuck in the arm-holes and sticking up alongside my face), I came out of the bedroom and asked for Drew's assistance.  Of course, he asked with an understandably slightly stern tone and a bit of a laugh, "WHAT are you doing?"  He helped me out of the tank top and I selected a different button-up shirt.  However, a few days later I saw the bella band and had an idea.  This is the result:

So, that is the story of how I was able to re-use or recycle a piece of maternity clothing.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Weekend Adventures with Family

My brother, Jeremy, sister-in-law, Brandy, and nephew, Traber, came for a visit over their spring break (Jeremy and Brandy are both teachers).  We absolutely love having visits from family and friends, so this was a special treat for our family.  Since Luke, Abbey and I have somewhat been hermits, it was so nice to have new visitors and get "out" of the house a bit with them.  Jeremy and Brandy were also very helpful around the house since I am still unable to lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk.  Plus, Luke and Traber are only a month apart in age, so Luke thoroughly enjoyed having a buddy his age around.  (Luke has only had one "play date" since my cancer diagnosis over 6 months ago.  Although we haven't had many play dates with friends over the past six months, Luke and Abbey have enjoyed being spoiled by the family that we have had stay with us during this time.)

This past weekend, we were blessed to have absolutely beautiful weather.  So, we spent as much time outdoors as possible.  The following photos were taken on Sunday, or our "Outdoor Funday"!

We rode "Sophie the Train" at the Cedar Rock Railroad.  We posed outside the train for a few family photos.

Luke and Traber

Drew and I with Luke and Abbey

Jeremy, Brandy andTraber

The train ride was absolutely glorious. The weather couldn't be more perfect, and the scenery was beautiful.  Abbey just "chilled" and took in the scenery as she enjoyed her hair blowing in the wind.  Luke and Traber apparently held hands the entire time. 

Just "chillin'".

Here, Abbey is pointing at the ducks on the pond and saying, "Duck! Duck!"
Daddy and Abbey
I stole this photo of the boys holding hands from Brandy's Facebook.  So precious!
    Then, we took a stroll around one of the parks near our home.

Here is Luke just strollin' down the sidewalk.

Brandy and Traber
Jeremy, Traber and Brandy
We spent A LOT of our time together outdoors while they were here.   The weather was perfect while they were in town.  Because we were having so much fun, I forgot to take photos most of the time we were outdoors hanging out.  I did, however, get some video of the boys having fun together.  And, I am not just talking about Luke and Traber.  Drew and Jeremy had great fun just being boys outside as well.  Here is one of several slow-motion videos I captured with my smartphone while Jeremy and Drew played with the football:

Thursday, March 21, 2013

3-Weeks Post Surgery #1

I'm back with a 3-week post-surgery update for those of you who are interested.  As I mentioned in my last post, I have been undergoing physical therapy. The goal of my physical therapy is to gain complete mobility of my arms.  I have some limited mobility due to the tightness in my pectoralis muscles.  However, the real focus of my PT is on the axillary cording of my left arm, since I need that to improve prior to radiation.  If I can't completely move my arm into the position needed for radiation, it would delay my treatment.  Well. I have some great news!  I have made significant progress in physical therapy.  In fact, I believe I can already completely move my arm into the position needed for radiation.  My physical therapist is very pleased with my improvement. 

I have noticed though ever since surgery that whenever I cough or sneeze, my incision sites hurt pretty badly.  After Physical Therapy on Friday, I noticed that the sites hurt even when I took deep breaths.  By Saturday night, I noticed my right breast incision site was bleeding.  On Tuesday, I saw my plastic surgeon, who removed the dressings over the incisions.  Unfortunately, there was a portion of the incision on my right breast that didn't have any of the dermabond glue.  This is what they use in lieu of stitches to close the incisions. The bleeding was seeping out of the area that lacked the glue.  So, I was unable to have my scheduled expansion.  Also, my lifting restrictions are being continued for at least another two weeks, when I see him next.  In addition, he wants me to try to keep my right arm from stretching too far out  Basically, he wants to prevent any pulling on that incision site until it fully heals.  Hopefully, I will be able to have my first expansion in a couple of weeks.  Then, I will have them weekly after that for 2-3 weeks.  After I am fully expanded and healed, I can begin radiation.  So, we are looking at probably the middle of April as the earliest for me to begin radiation. 

I feel great though.  The only real pain that I am in is the day of physical therapy, which is only twice weekly.  I am beginning to feel like my old self!  But, that can be dangerous sometimes.  :-)  My old self liked to accomplish a lot of things during the day.  So, I have to try to restrain myself, since I really need the incision sites to heal. 

I have so much more to share, including some exciting hair news and our fun adventures outdoors with my Brother, Sister-in-law and nephew last weekend.   But, I will save all of that good stuff for another post.  Happy Thursday everyone!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Abbey's New "Look"

For a while now, Abbey has been giving us this "look" that makes us laugh every time.  Our little girl is SO funny.  She gets a kick out of making all of those around her laugh.  She does this in many ways, but lately her "look" that she has been perfecting over the past month or so has to be one of the best.

She does it at random times during the day when we need a laugh.  However, she will also do it on command.  So, whenever I need a good laugh, I ask her to give me her "look."

I posted a video of this on facebook a couple of weeks ago.  However, when we were outside a few nights ago, we captured a better video.  So, I thought I would share.  Happy Friday!

Family Fun in the Sun

The weather has been absolutely beautiful here lately.  Also, we are enjoying the extra hours of sunlight in the evenings.  So, we have been having so much fun outdoors every evening as a family.  Here are some photos of our recent outdoor fun.

Luke has been teaching Abbey how to mow our yard.  I took this photo when my parents were in town.

Here, my dad is taking a photo of me taking a photo of him as we sat outside on the patio and enjoyed the weather.  I was so thankful my parents were able to spend the first week of surgery with me!

Mimi and Papa bought a really cool bubble toy for Luke and Abbey this past week.  We spent several nights this past week playing with the bubbles.  Here, Luke is watching Mimi get some bubble on her wand. 

Here, Mimi is blowing some bubbles with the blue wand that Luke gave her.
Papa uses the wind to create bubbles.
Abbey and Daddy watch the bubbles fly.
One night this week, we decided to go to the library and get a treat downtown.  There was a fun fountain nearby that both Luke and Abbey enjoyed.

Luke enjoyed splashing in all of the puddles.

Enjoying a treat and the weather near the fountain!

If daddy wasn't restraining Abbey, I am pretty sure she would have been soaked.  She was ready to play in the water!

Two Weeks Post-Surgery Update

Hello there friends and family!  I am so sorry it has taken so long for me to post an update.  This past week and a half has been busy with appointments and other things.  But, since both kids are napping at the same time right now, I thought it would be the perfect time to post an update.

By about a week post surgery, I had all of my drains pulled out.  This provided immediate relief!  The drains were very uncomfortable and just annoying.  So, I was careful to follow the doctor's orders of doing only what I needed to do and resting the remainder of the time that first week so the drains could come out asap.  I guess it worked!  The holes in my skin where the drains came out were a little sore for a few days.  I think it didn't help that the insertion points happened to be directly under the elastic band of my bra. 

The expanders are still pretty annoying, but I am getting more used to them.  Imagine having a hard plastic object placed underneath your pectoralis muscles, which have been cut and sewn together.  The expanders are stretching the pectoralis muscles and my skin constantly.  So, when I reach for something, I really feel the stretching.  This has caused me to guard my pecs a bit.  It has been difficult to maintain good posture, as hunching over feels the most comfortable. 

I can feel the nerve endings coming back in the skin of my upper chest.  It feels similar to having chaffed skin.  So, it is very sensitive, and by the end of the night I am anxious to remove whatever shirt I was wearing that day and put on my satin jammies.  They are the most comfortable against my skin.

I am really so thankful to have had no major complications from my surgery, other than some axillary cording (or axillary web syndrome).  This can sometimes happen to patients who have either a sentinal node biopsy or an axillary node biopsy, but is more common when the latter is performed.  The trauma to (or removal of) the lymph nodes during surgery can create what feel like tiny ropes or "cords" that are just under my skin and palpable when my arm is stretched.  Research suggests that thombosed (clotted) lymph vessels are responsible for the cording. The vessels are inflamed and become thicker and shorter. The cords are painful and tight, making it difficult for me to lift my arm any higher than my shoulder or extend the elbow fully.  When at rest to my side, my arm doesn't hurt at all.  Needless to say, for the first couple of weeks after surgery, I have been mainly using my right arm to perform tasks during the day.   Not being able to raise my arm very high is especially problematic since I will need to be able to raise my arm completely above my head for my upcoming radiation therapy.  After I mentioned the cording to my oncologist at my last appointment, she referred me to a physical therapist.  So, I began physical therapy this week at exactly 2 weeks post-surgery.

During the first appointment, the therapist gathered my history and then demonstrated some exercises that I am to perform twice daily.   Performing these 5 exercises twice daily (morning and night) will be about an hour and a half of time investment each day.  And that doesn't include the neck exercises that are recommended.  But, I believe they are totally worth the time investment.  Again, I can't begin radiation until I can raise my arm over my head, so I really have to do these exercises.  Today was my second day of physical therapy.  During this morning's appointment, the therapist manually stretched my skin and massaged the cords.  We actually felt one of the cords pop.  Then, I used some of their equipment to perform some new exercises.  Although I have only been in therapy for a few days, I have already seen some progress.  She is also working on the pectoralis muscle tightness as well, helping me to open up my chest more.  I felt great leaving the appointment, although she said I would probably be in some pain later due to her manipulation.  This therapist will be working with me even throughout radiation, in order to hopefully prevent lymphedema.  I am not going to go into a lot of detail about lymphedema, other than to say it is something I definitely don't want!  :-)

Lifting restrictions:  I am realizing that I must have lifted Abbey a lot prior to surgery.  There have been so many times I have wanted to lift her, move her away from something that she shouldn't be into, or even just carry her or cuddle with her, but caught myself as I remembered my restrictions.  I have an appointment this coming Tuesday with my plastic surgeon to have my first expansion.  So, I am going to ask about how long these lifting restrictions will be in place.  Initially, they told me I couldn't lift for 3-4 weeks, and this coming Tuesday will be almost 3 weeks since my surgery.  

I am so thankful to have had Drew's parents here to help out during the weekdays.  They are definitely God-gifted with their ability to provide acts of service.  I really don't know how we would have done the past two weeks' days without them!  Especially between all of the doctor's appointments and taking care of the kids. 

Mimi (Drew's mom) and Abbey

We are also so thankful for our church community group ladies and friends who have been bringing us meals!  They are greatly appreciated.  Grocery store trips and cooking are very difficult tasks right now with my lifting restrictions and even finding time to plan meals is difficult.  We have been the recipients of so many acts of selfless love and service throughout this cancer journey.  It makes me anxious to be able to serve others soon, since I know firsthand how it feels to be loved and served this much!

Ok, enough about surgery, I am ready for another post about the fun we have been having the past couple of weeks!  Stay tuned!

Love, Heather

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

My updated treatment plan

We just returned from my visit with my wonderful oncologist, Dr. Hellerstedt. She truly is a God-send and a breath of fresh air.   She is always so positive and optimistic about me and defeating this cancer.  Her opinion of the pathology report was actually very favorable.  She pointed out that most of the cancer remaining in my breast was DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ).  She said that the chemo would not have done anything about that regardless, since it was not invasive.  That type of cancer is considered stage 0 cancer and is simply removed with surgery, which is what we just did.  The concerning cancer is the invasive carcinoma.  This type of cancer is what the chemo was supposed to attack.  This was still found in the small vessels of the lymph nodes and some small sporadic amounts were found in the breast.  However, she said the chemo definitely worked.  The largest focus of cancer in the lymph nodes was .6 cm.  She reminded us that prior to chemo, the largest lymph nodes were around 4cm.  She said that was approximately an 86% reduction.  This is remarkable improvement and something to celebrate!

She communicated with my MD Anderson oncologist, Dr. Litton, and they developed a new plan.  I will begin taking an oral chemotherapy drug, called Xeloda, while I am undergoing radiation.  Dr. Litton indicated that they have found research has not shown more chemo to be beneficial in patients like me who have completed neoadjuvent chemo and surgery and still have cancer remaining but are also so estrogen positive.  So, MD Anderson usually prescribes the Xeloda to take during radiation (in a smaller than normal dose since it is radiation sensitive).  I believe the goal is to prevent recurrence of cancer while I am undergoing radiation.  Then, after radiation, I can start Tamoxifen, which will really help to eliminate the remaining cancer and prevent recurrence on an ongoing basis.  The side effects of the Xeloda are not too bad, and the main risk is that my skin may burn more during radiation.  So, we will need to watch for that.  But, I shouldn't feel nauseous due to the drug, and my hair will continue to grow, so that is great news!  I wish I would have had my port removed during my mastectomy surgery, but there was no way to know that I could have had it removed before-hand.  The plan would be to remove it during my final reconstruction surgery, which will be in about 8 months at the earliest.  Therefore, I will need to have it flushed every 3-4 weeks between now and then.   I am just thankful that we won't have to use it for more infusion chemo though!  :-)

I should be able to have my other two drains removed tomorrow.  My tight bra elastic currently sits directly on top of the drain tubes, so removing the tubes should help me feel significantly better.

Thank you for your continued thoughts and prayers.  I am feeling great (better with each new day) and I know that a big part of this is due to all of the people praying for me.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Post-surgical Update and Pathology Report

Drew and I returned early this afternoon from my post-operative appointment with my breast surgeon.  She said I looked great and the wounds seem to be healing well.  We also received a copy of my pathology result from the tissue removed at surgery and discussed the results with her.    Here is page 1 of the pathology results:

Sorry it is a little blurry. 

The Facts:
When the surgeon removed tissue from my axilla, she was generous with the amount she removed due to my sentinal nodes (the first lymph nodes closest to the cancerous breast tissue) testing positive for cancer during surgery.  She ended up removing 8 axillary lymph nodes, 7 of which were still positive for cancer.  Also, it turns out that 3 of the 4 quadrants of my left breast were still cancerous.  It appears that the chemo did work though--it broke up the cancer and began attacking in a sort of sporadic way.  However, I did not have a complete response.   But, I had a TON of cancer to begin with.  The largest cancerous area of the many cancerous areas within my breast was 1.1 cm following chemo.  I am very thankful that my right breast was not cancerous.  The issue is that cancer is in my lymph nodes.  With cancer in my nodes, that means it is circulating in my blood.  I need for it be completely eradicated so it does not rear its ugly head somewhere else in my body--that would be stage 4 cancer. 

My oncologist warned me prior to surgery to expect to see cancerous results from my pathology report and she said she was not concerned by that.  However, I was still hopeful I would receive a complete response from chemo.  Actually though, cancers that are highly estrogen receptor positive like mine (mine is approx 90% estrogen positive) are not typically very responsive to chemotherapy.  The best treatment for patients like me typically comes from the 15 plus years of Tamoxifen treatment that I will be on after radiation is complete.  Tamoxifen works by binding to the cancer's estrogen receptors.  This prevents the cancer from growing. And, if the cancer cannot grow, it dies.

I will meet with my oncologist tomorrow morning to figure out what the next step of the treatment plan is for me. My surgeon said that after discussion with my oncologist, she knows she does not want to put me back on the AC drug.   This news makes me happy.  So, I will likely either start a new type of chemotherapy prior to radiation, or go right into radiation after healing from this surgery.  Radiation is an important part of my treatment plan, as it will target all of the original areas of cancer, including my supraclavicular and internal mammary nodes, which were not removed in surgery.

I asked the breast surgeon how I would ever know if I am cancer free.  Apparently, there is no way for me to ever know for sure from now on if I am completely cancer free.  I will have future regular periodic imaging studies, which will hopefully show no evidence of disease.   But, as we saw from my PET/CT and following surgical pathology, there is no way to know if microscopic cancerous areas are still hanging out in my body.  With breast cancer, there is no blood test that would be indicative of having cancer remaining.  There are no specific tumor markers that are helpful to review.  According to both my breast surgeon and oncologist, ongoing management of my cancer involves periodic imaging studies and the reliance on the patient (me) to tell them of any new symptoms I am having (headaches, a new cough, etc.).  Then, specific imaging tests would be done to rule out cancer if I have any new symptoms.

Another concern that I will have ongoing is my risk for lymphedema.  I can never have my blood drawn, blood pressure checked, or even get a scratch or scrape on my left arm (where my axillary lymph nodes were removed) or I would be placed at extremely high risk for getting lymphedema.  So, I am learning to adapt to this and be extra careful with my left arm.

How I am feeling post surgery:
I am actually healing very well.  I had 4 drains tubes placed during surgery, as well as a tiny catheter that was coiled under my pectoral muscles which supplied some local pain medicine to the area.  Yesterday, I had a quick visit to the plastic surgeon's office, where they removed two of my drains and the pain med catheter.  It feels so much better to be down 2 drains and the catheter.   I feel like the other two are also ready to come out, but I will need to wait until tomorrow or Thursday to have those removed. I haven't had any of the lortab (the hard-core pain meds) for several days now and really am just taking a couple of meds now for swelling and to relax my chest muscles due to the expanders.  The expanders are pretty annoying and uncomfortable, but hopefully I will get used to them.  :-)  I have to keep them for at least six months following completion of radiation.

Today as we were driving from the surgeon's office to Luke's school to pick him up, I was reading my pathology report.  I was fine until I called my mom while Drew was inside the school picking up Luke and I verbally stated the results to her.  Uncontrollable tears began streaming down my face.  I didn't feel overwhelmingly sad, but I guess the emotions of cancer still being present in my body and things being completely out of my control were causing the tears.  But, then after I hung up the phone, I remembered, I am not in control and never will be.  God is in control and knows the end of this.  If it were under my control, I would have zapped the cancer with the chemo and called it a day.  But, apparently there is more for me to learn.  As I have looked back at my life and things that, while they were happening, I didn't understand, I realize it was much better for God to have been in control than for me.  Things worked out so much better in the end, even having gone through some tough trials and tribulations.  (Romans 8:28 says "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.")  I would have missed out on important life lessons which have made me who I am today, should I have not had to go through certain life events.  God definitely knows what he is doing.  Of course, my desire is to be completely healed.  But, I know He is sovereign and has a plan.  The plan could be that I am completely healed, or perhaps I am not.  If He chooses to heal me, it will be in His timing and by His plan, not mine.  I am going to continue to pray and beg for complete healing though.  I would ask everyone I know to do the same.  I want to be around to help raise these precious children of ours.   After I got off the phone with my mom while waiting for Drew and Luke to walk to the car today from school, I wiped the tears and began praying to God and meditating as mentioned above.   I was fine and God showed me His strength in my weakness.  But then, the Holy Spirit decided to speak, once again, through our precious son Luke after he got into his car seat.  Luke said, "mommy!"  I said, "What honey"?  He replied, "I love you!"  He then said that several mores times on the way home and this afternoon.  God knows how to heal me.  My love language is "words of affirmation".  God uses even my three year old to heal me by using words of affirmation, exactly when I need them.     
We continue to trust in God's plan and His sovereignty for our lives.  The joy of the Lord is my strength and I remain completely blessed and happy!  We also really appreciate our prayer warriors who continue to pray for our family and for my complete healing.  We love all of you and are so thankful for you.  Mark 5:36:  "Do not be afraid, just believe!"

Friday, March 1, 2013

My First Breast Cancer Surgery

I am home!  And, according to my surgeons, my surgery went really well.  Thank you for your thoughts and prayers!  What I am left with doesn't quite look like breasts yet, but at least my old breast tissue is gone. 

According to my breast surgeon, when she removed my left breast and a few sentinel nodes (the lymph nodes closest to the breast tissue), a quick pathological look at the sentinel nodes showed some cancer cells.  Therefore, she was generous with the number of axillary nodes she removed. We should find out my pathology results of the breast tissue and axillary nodes by Tuesday.  Since there was cancer in the sentinel nodes, there will likely be in the breast as well.  But, I am still hoping for good results.  Based on these pathological results, we will move forward with more chemo and then radiation, or just go straight into radiation. 

My plastic surgeon followed my breast surgeon and finished the surgery by placing my expanders and closing the incision.  He also placed 4 drain tubes and coiled a tiny catheter (pain pump) which feeds pain meds to the breast area.  The pain pump catheter looks very similar to a soaker hose, in that it has tiny holes throughout which feed the numbing meds to the chest area.  The pump of meds last for about 5 days.  The pain pump's purpose is to keep the area under my chest muscle numb, which helps with some of the discomfort.  He filled my expanders with 100cc of fluid.  This is equivalent to 3 oz of fluid. So, currently, what I have does not really look like breasts, but bumpy, rippled ridges.  When he can expand them a little more they will look a little more normal.  He will begin the expansion in a few weeks.  But, he is only expanding them another 100 ccs or so prior to radiation, so they are not going to look that different.

Currently, I am on many different medications to help with various issues.  I also have to empty my drain tubes every 12 hours.  So, I feel like keeping up with all of these instructions and following my restrictions is a bit of a full time job.  I was able to come home from the hospital yesterday afternoon.  It was my choice, because they were going to keep me another night.  But, I would much rather be at home.  I go stir crazy in hospitals and I really missed Luke and Abbey. I got a great night sleep last night also, which I likely wouldn't have gotten in the hospital with the staff coming to check on me every hour. 

The photo above was taken shortly after I arrived home from the hospital.   You can see my four lovely drain bulbs, and the pain pump (the bag I am carrying). I have accidentally walked away from that bag (which has a catheter attached to me). That was no fun.  It has to come with me wherever I go since the catheter feeds into my sternum area. 

Next Steps:
I will call the plastic surgeon's office on Monday and let them know what my drain output has been.  This should let them know approximately when I will need my drains removed.  So, I will schedule that appointment on Monday.  Then on Tuesday, March 5, I have a post-op visit with my breast surgeon.  That is when I will review my pathology results.  I am guessing that after that point I can discuss my next steps with the oncologist (as far as chemo or no chemo goes). 

After 3 weeks of healing, I will begin the expansion process over 2-3 weeks and then shortly after that hopefully start radiation. 

The most difficult part of this for me so far has been the restrictions.  It is amazing to me just how much we use our arms to push and pull things.  For example, we use our arms to pull the fridge door open.  Getting out of bed requires pushing action with arms.  I am learning new ways to do everyday activities differently.  Or, I just ask for help.  Luke is not sure what he thinks about my drain bulbs.  He has asked about them a couple of times already.

I am so glad to have this surgery behind me!  It is another step in the process that I can check off.  I will continue to keep everyone updated.  Thanks again for your continued prayers!