Saturday, March 26, 2011

Cancer Free

First of all, I'd like to say huge thanks for all the prayers and well-wishes over the past couple of weeks.  I made it through the surgery just fine and am doing pretty great now that I'm 11 days out, though I still have physical and visual reminders of the surgery.  Physical:  I feel really sore (It feels like there is a constant knot in my right lower back that needs to be worked out by a massage therapist, and I feel as though I've been training for a power lifting competition, yet my purse is too heavy to carry for more than a couple of minutes (this comes as a surprise to no one who has ever seen a purse of mine, but for the first time ever, my huge purse actually feels like a hindrance).  Visual reminders: one drainage tube is still coming from my back where the docs grabbed the tissue for my reconstruction; the fact that my chest looks entirely different now; the surgical tape covering every incision the docs made; the permanent marker the plastic surgeon used to scrawl over my entire back even though he was cutting from a tiny spot on my latissimus dorsi...Obviously I could go on and on.  The point is that despite the physical and visual reminders, I am healing really well. 
The first days after surgery were pretty rough.  My first nurse in recovery was determined to have me up and walking the first evening, never mind the fact that I had just had surgery that afternoon.  Sitting up for the first time after surgery was probably the most painful thing I've ever had to do in my 30 years, and I *calmly* told the nurse that there must be something else she could do for my pain in order for me to stand up and walk.  It turns out a shot of morphine did just the trick.  I successfully walked the hallway outside of my hospital room.  Aaron could see how much pain I was in told me he was proud of me.  He knows I thrive on compliments.  Aaron spent the first night in my hospital room, and he and mom-in-law spent every day in my room with me, watching me sleep and watching the NCAA basketball tournament.  Judging by some of the match-ups, I'm not sure which was more entertaining at times.
The docs were encouraged by how well I was healing and wanted to send me home on Friday, but this was delayed due to the nausea I was feeling because of all the pain meds.  I turns out putting a whole mess of Percocet and morphine in an empty tummy does not make for keeping much food down.  I finally got home on Saturday afternoon and everything has been much easier since.  Aaron and mom-in-law had the sofa bed pulled out for me, complete with about 20 pillows, fresh flowers, cards and presents waiting for me.
Interestingly, the hardest part of recovery has been sleeping!  Sitting up is basically no problem, but due to the lat-flap procedure, comfortably laying down for a snooze is just about the most difficult thing ever, but I'm taking comfort in the fact that this whole surgery (and cancer) business will be a distant memory soon enough.
I have had two follow-up appointments since the surgery.  On Thursday I met with my radiation oncologist to discuss my radiation plan.  We are going to be very aggressive with radiation due to the size of my tumor and the lymph nodes that were also involved.  The pathology report stated that the size of the tumor removed was 2.9 centimeters (down from 4 cm when I was originally diagnosed), and 9 lymph nodes were removed from my arm pit (6 of which were positive for cancer).  The good news is that the margins of the tumor were clear and my chest wall was not affected by cancer.  Thus, I can state that I am cancer free.  There are many more tests to undergo, but I am trying to relish the fact that all of that nasty cancer was successfully removed from my body. 
The plan for radiation is to do 28 treatments over the course of 5 1/2 weeks.  This means I'll get zapped for 10 minutes a day, 5 days a week.  Everyone who has gone through it says it's nothing compared to chemotherapy, so I'm honestly not dreading it that much.  Also, we won't start radiation until approximately 5 weeks from now, when my body has healed from surgery. 
I also went to the plastic surgeon yesterday.  He looked at his work and declared it beautiful (um, good for him?), and sent the nurse in to take out two of my surgical drains.  This was a happy, if painful, moment.  Having to deal with one's own grossness seeping into surgical drains is not the most pleasant experience.  I am overjoyed to be down to one drain now!
So slowly everything is getting back to normal.  I am taking less pain pills with each passing day, and I'm able to lift my arms higher and do more for myself.  Mom-in-law departed on Tuesday and our good friend, Jenny (also from Minnesota), arrived at our house on Wednesday.  I'm not sure if these Minnesotans actually want to be here to "take care of me" or if they are just chasing the sunshine.  I'll take the company either way.  It is truly beautiful in Atlanta, and the signs of spring keep coming.  There is a huge amount of wisteria in our back yard that is quite breathtaking, and everywhere I look, I have potted flowers and herbs.  We've also improved our back patio with some new chairs, pillows and a big umbrella.  I'm not sure if there is a prescription for sitting outside in the warmth of sunshine, but I can feel the healing powers.

Ollie enjoying a flower arrangement sent by Uncle John and Aunt Deb

Tulips by the front steps

Plants on the back deck


Me and Aaron

Me and Jenny, enjoying the great patios

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Signs of Spring

It's March, and in the South that means spring is here (again, I say this with apologies to friends who live in areas of the country where there is still snow on the ground). Everywhere I look there are buds, blooms and grass slowly returning to green.  Except for ours.  Our grass is still dormant, and any green peeking through is actually a weed on which Aaron has declared war.  I've actually heard him talking to the weeds when we are walking through the back yard:  "Just wait.  I've got a new bottle of weed killer.  You're gonna get it this weekend!"  It's his first spring as a home (and yard) owner, and he's taking it quite seriously.

Blooms from our front yard

Other signs of growth abound, too!  I'm most excited about the tiny hairs that are starting to sprout on my lash line.  They certainly aren't long enough to hold any mascara, but they are there and they are growing, and they are a sign of what is to come.  I obsessively check on them every day with my 10x magnifying makeup mirror and I make Aaron look at them as well: 
"Look, baby!  My tiny eyelashes are even longer today!" 
"Yes, Joycie, I see them."
"But look, they're longer than yesterday!"
"I trust you."

He's never quite as excited about them as I am for some reason.  Also, I was sitting in the sun the other day when I looked down and thought that my eyes were deceiving me.  There was baby fine hair on my legs.  It was so fine that I couldn't even feel it, and so blond that I really had to be in the sun to see it, but it was there.  I had been bragging to everyone who would listen that I had silky smooth legs minus the shaving.  It was the only good thing about chemo.  Three days ago I picked up a razor for the first time since October, and I did so happily.  It seems there is something about this ritual in the shower that I missed, something that made me feel very feminine.  And now I have it again.  I'm sure I'll be complaining about shaving again in a month, but today it makes me happy.

And there is a bit more peach fuzz on top of my head these days.  It is very, very soft, fine, and blond/white.  It is also very sparse.  When I look in the mirror, I am definitely still a bald person.  However, when sitting on the couch with Aaron, I always catch him staring at the top of my head.  "I swear your hair is getting longer," he'll say.  I guess he is more excited about the prospect of having a wife with hair on her head than her lash line.

Finally, it seems I forgot to mention one *tiny* detail in my previous post.  My surgery has been moved up one week, which means I am set for surgery this coming Wednesday, March 16.  My oncologist said that 6 weeks after my last chemo infusion would be the optimal time for surgery, so that's what we're going with!  I am tempted to lie and say that I am feeling very brave and not worried at all about the loss of boobs/pain/recovery time/surgical drains/etc...  But the truth is I'm kind of freaking out.  It's not that I think anything will go wrong; I know everything will be fine.  As I've said before, I have complete faith in my surgeons.  It's just that the anticipation is killing me!  Yes, cancer can't kill me, but anticipation just might.  I want to get this over with.  Luckily, mom-in-law will be here Sunday evening to distract me during the final days before I roll into the operating room.  She has informed me that she's bringing with her an army of recipes sure to make me whole again, so to speak.  Sounds like I won't be eating much hospital food after all, thank God!