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


  1. proud of you, joyce! you are simply incredible. way to go. love to see that headline CANCER FREE!

  2. Hi Joyce, congrats on getting through everything! You look wonderful in the pics. - Lucas

  3. Amazing, as always! I'm so glad to hear this news. It is a relief to hear you sounding upbeat and ready to take on the next step. I'm so very proud of you, my beautiful friend. :)

  4. Way to go, Joyce! Thanks for the long update. The wisteria looks amazing! Thinking of you. -Lauren

  5. Very happy to hear you are doing so well and feeling better and better every day!! Spring is such a good time for renewal and you are a new cancer free spring self!

    We will keep sending healing thoughts your way!
    -Lisa & Christian

    PS. Your flowers are gorgeous, I am Minne-jealous! Also, Ollie is SO cute, meow!

  6. Joyce, so glad to hear the words "cancer free"! That is fantastic news. I hope the recovery continues to go well.

  7. Excellent news, Joyce! I'm so glad to hear you are cancer free!